The year is not even two weeks old but it already has one electrifyingly brilliant film to its credit.
"Pearl Jam Twenty" is available On Demand (check your satellite or cable listings) and premieres on the PBS series "American Masters" at 9 p. m. (ET/PT), Oct. 21. It will be released on Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 25. For additional viewing, the grunge documentary "Hype!" is available on Netflix (DVD only).
by Jeff Shannon
Here in Seattle, we think of Cameron Crowe as an honorary native. When he married Nancy Wilson in 1986, he married into local rock royalty: Nancy and her sister, Ann, are the pioneering queens of rock in Heart, the phenomenally successful and still-touring Seattle-based band that is presently nominated for induction into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. It wasn't long before Crowe became a kind of de facto ambassador of Seattle-based rock.
At the time, the rest of the world still knew Crowe as the rock-journalist wunderkind who started writing for Rolling Stone at age 15 (an experience Crowe would later dramatize in "Almost Famous") and the author-turned-screenwriter of Amy Heckerling's 1982 high-school classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." You could reasonably speculate that the seeds of the Crowe/Wilson romance were planted in "Fast Times": Nancy Wilson makes a cameo appearance in the film as "Beautiful Girl in Car," catching Judge Reinhold's character in yet another moment of humiliating embarrassment. One can imagine Crowe thinking "I'm gonna marry that girl." When he actually did, countless male Heart fans turned green with envy.
(By sheer happenstance, I made a friendly connection with Crowe three years before we actually met. Shortly after the newlywed Crowe moved to the Eastside Seattle suburb of Woodinville, he and Nancy placed a mobile home on their rural property to accommodate visits from Wilson's mother. At the time, my father was running a mortgage business specializing in mobile/land sales in Snohomish County, and he closed their deal. When my dad informed Crowe that I was a Seattle film critic and an admirer of his, Crowe sent me a signed copy of Fast Times at Ridgemont High to my dad's office. It was a completely unsolicited gesture of kindness, and a pleasant precursor to later encounters.)
"Killing Bono" available On Demand (through various cable outlets -- check your listings) October 5. In theaters November 4.
by Odie Henderson
"Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little." -- Gore Vidal
I was the only patron at my screening of "U2: Rattle and Hum" back in 1988. Sitting in the cavernous darkness of my old 'hood theater, with its still-unmatched speakers and the ghosts of my childhood movies, I fell in love with the band U2. Beforehand, I had a casual familiarity with their music, and while I liked some of the songs, I wouldn't have considered myself a fan. I went because the black and white cinematography looked gorgeous in the clips I'd seen on TV. I wasn't disappointed. Phil Joanou's documentary is achingly beautiful. That, along with Bono and the New Voices of Freedom gospel choir's performance of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," cemented my diehard fandom. Once, in a Dublin pub, armed with numerous imbibed pints of Guinness and a dare from the guitar-playing busker who'd been entertaining the crowd, I sang "All I Want Is You" to a crowd of swooning lasses standing in front of me. That evening ended well.
Neil McCormick, the protagonist of "Killing Bono" would hate that I started this piece fawning over the murder victim of the film's title. After all, he feels trapped in Bono's shadow and decides he has to kill him. "Killing Bono" opens in 1987, with a stalkerish Neil (Ben Barnes) driving his car to Bono's latest Dublin appearance. Rambling to the camera that he was originally entitled to everything Bono has, Neil crashes his car before exiting with his gun drawn and pointed at his prey. "I always knew I'd be famous," he tells us.
Cue the flashback machine! Suddenly, it's 1976, and McCormick stands in a high school hallway reading a billboard notice. His classmate, Paul Hewson (Martin McCann), is holding auditions for his new band, The Hype. Despite being in Neil's band, The Undertakers, Neil's brother Ivan (Robert Sheehan) tries out for second guitar. Much to Neil's chagrin, Hewson loves Ivan's work and wants him for his band. Neil objects--Ivan's really good and essential to Neil's success--so he tells Paul no deal.
• "The Outer Limits" (original series) is available on Netflix (DVD), Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video. • "In Cold Blood" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video. • "Cool Hand Luke" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video. • "American Beauty" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video. • "Road to Perdition" is available on Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray).
by Jeff Shannon Eyes Wide Open: A Single Artist's Vision
Ask anyone who's devoted their life to the study and appreciation of movies and they can probably tell you exactly when they were "bitten by the movie bug," that moment of personal epiphany that sparked an all-consuming passion for what is arguably the greatest, most powerful medium of artistic expression.
In my case, it was Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" that literally changed my life. That's an influential milestone I share with many cinephiles who came of age in the 1950s and '60s, especially those "movie brats" (among them James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) who were drawn to imaginative visions of the future. Because I'd spent most of my childhood outdoors or casually enjoying Disney films and other kid-friendly fare, I didn't see Kubrick's visionary masterpiece until it played a return engagement at Seattle's glorious Cinerama Theater, in 1971, when I was nine years old.
(With its huge, curved Cinerama screen, the Cinerama is still the only theater in Seattle capable of showing "2001" as Kubrick intended. It exclusively hosted the film's original 77-week Seattle run beginning in April 1968, and the fully restored 70-millimeter print of "2001" had its world premiere there, appropriately enough, in 2001, two years after the aging cinema was purchased and beautifully renovated by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It's now one of only three theaters in the world -- along with the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles and the Pictureville Cinema in Bradford England -- equipped to exhibit three-panel Cinerama, requiring three synchronized projectors for the only seven films created in the three-strip Cinerama process, including 1956's "This Is Cinerama" and 1962's "How the West Was Won." Starting this week [Sept. 30th] and running through mid-October, Seattle's Cinerama is hosting a "70mm Festival" of 15 films, including "2001," that originally premiered there.)
Like no other film before it, "2001" opened my eyes to the power of a single artist's vision and led me to understand the supremacy of a great director. I didn't know it then, but I'd discovered the basis of auteur theory, and while it would be foolish to deny that film is (to echo that award-acceptance cliché) the most collaborative of all art forms, it's no contradiction to embrace the Kubrick quote that greets all visitors to kubrickfilms.com, Warner Bros.' authorized Kubrick website: "One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony. It is essential for one man to make a film." (Disregard "man"; Kubrick would've been the first to include female filmmakers in his statement.)
"Amigo" is playing in selected theaters, including the Siskel Film Center in Chicago.
by Odie Henderson
There is something to be said for the economy in John Sayles' movie titles. He gets his point across in five words or less. The theatrical films he has written and directed bear the names of locations ("Matewan," "Sunshine State," "Silver City," "Limbo") or are deceptively simple descriptive statements ("The Secret of Roan Inish," "The Brother From Another Planet," "Return of the Secaucus Seven," "Amigo"). All 17 titles average out to just under 3 words per movie moniker (actually, 2.5), which means Sayles' 18th movie must star the king of the three word movie title, Steven Seagal. Laugh if you must, but IMDb will tell you Sayles once wrote a film for Dolph Lundgren. Seagal is only a "Marked for Death" sequel away, should Mr. Sayles take my advice.
In the meantime, his 17th film opens September 16th On Demand. "Amigo" follows the path running through much of Sayles' work: It is politically aware, occasionally melodramatic and maintains a certain intimacy despite sprawling across multiple characters and stories. Bitter irony and blatant humanism peacefully co-exist as Sayles' heroes, heroines and villains struggle to maintain the dignity he inherently believes they have. The director's masterpiece, "Lone Star," is the quintessential example of Sayles expressing his themes and ideas in epic format. Anchored by Chris Cooper, "Lone Star" spins a tale of power, race and class across generations, juggling numerous characters with whom the story invests such weight and interest that I could follow any of them out of the film and into their own adventures.
"Amigo" is not as tightly crafted as "Lone Star." It's a messier work whose dialogue is at times a tad too purple, its political allusions a little too obvious, and it has a one-note character that is uncharacteristic of its creator. Much of its plot is predictable in an old-fashioned, yet comforting studio-system way. Reminiscent of a sloppier E. L. Doctorow novel, "Amigo" merges real-life characters with fictional ones while plumbing a bygone era for parallels of today. Like Doctorow, Sayles provides numerous details of the period he depicts, culled from the research he did for his book "A Moment in the Sun." Its U.S. occupation plotline could represent Iraq or Vietnam or Afghanistan, and its soldier characters are good ol' boys found in many an old war movie (and many an actual platoon, as well). What makes "Amigo" engrossing despite its predictability is the object of its gaze: This is an occupation story, but for a change, "the Other" is us. The occupied people are observing the outsiders who have interrupted their life narrative by invading their country. In "Amigo," we are entrenched in the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).
Marshall Curry's "If a Tree Falls" premieres on PBS's "POV" series Tuesday, September 13, 2011.
by Steven Boone
Terrorism is plain stupid. I reaffirmed this belief halfway into "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front", a documentary chronicling the titular organization's rise and fall. It's one thing to protest in the streets, sit down in front of bulldozers and stage direct "actions" to draw media attention to a particular issue; it's another thing entirely to commit violent crimes with the same ends in mind. But did the Earth Liberation Front actually perpetrate any terrorism? Their 1200 or so "incidents," as a lawyer representing some members calls them, resulted in zero deaths or injuries (other than maybe a booboo sustained while vaulting a fence before the cops came). The violence was restricted to private property.
But the crimes covered in this film were prosecuted in the wake of 9/11, when its principal subject, radical environmental activist-arsonist Daniel McGowan, found himself branded a terrorist in the media and on trial. "I think people look at my case and think, 'What if that motherf**ker burned down my house?'" he says in the film. "They think it's just a bunch of young crazies walking around with gas cans, lighting shit on fire and that pisses them off."
"These facilities" were the offices of park rangers, loggers, an SUV dealership and a horse slaughterhouse. In the '90s and '00s, the E.L.F. targeted a range of businesses and organizations it saw as powerful agents of environmental destruction. The members were mostly very young protestors radicalized by brutal police response. Footage of cops beating and pepper-spraying non-violent activists who refuse to disperse does resemble classic civil rights/counterculture tumult. (Scenes of confrontation with loggers, from an E. L.F.-made documentary ostensibly shot in the mid-90s, look as if they could have been shot in the late '60s.) This was a classic, bright-eyed, idealistic strain of the environmental movement, led by resourceful twenty-somethings.
Opening theatrically in New York. Available now through Comcast On Demand, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu. See TribecaFilm.com for details.
by Odie Henderson
"Beware the Gonzo" begins with one of those flash-forwarded scenes where something from later in the film is presented to us as a means of foreshadowing. Being out of context, the scene has the tricky role of piquing the viewer's interest while not being a spoiler. It rarely works, and "Beware the Gonzo"'s opening scene is a big spoiler: a beaten up Eddie "Gonzo" Gilman (Ezra Miller) stares into a video camera and tells us that his actions have cost him his best friends, made him lose his girl, gotten him kicked out of school, and almost caused the divorce of his parents (played nicely by Campbell Scott and Amy Sedaris).
This is supposed to be an apology to all those he has wronged, but instead, it's one of those politician mea culpas, a whiny "my bad if you were upset" speech that never forgets to be more about its subject than atoning for his wrongdoings. Out of context, it seemed pathetic, but I was willing to grant that I didn't have the entire speech at my disposal. However, it hung over the movie, and as I met the interesting and trusting characters, dread crept in; I kept waiting for the moment when Gonzo would stop being the likeable character he is for much of the film and turns into this destructive monster.
This is not a bad thing, mind you, but the film's dark turn treats some rather unsavory matters in eye-rollingly shallow fashion to produce a happy ending. It never makes its case for why we, or anybody in "Beware the Gonzo" should Forgive the Gonzo. If the film were honest, this tale of how power corrupts would have had a bittersweet, life-learning lesson of an ending: The hero learns from his mistakes and carries that lament with him as he moves on. Lacking that courage, director-screenwriter Brian Goluboff should have at least removed the most serious of "Beware the Gonzo"'s sins from the screenplay. The ending would then be easier to swallow. More on that shortly.
Gonzo works for a prep school newspaper run by principal's darling Gavin Reilly (Jesse McCartney). Reilly is a jock who not only edits the newspaper but comes from a long line of school attendees and patrons. Reilly's family has won a prestigious history award for the school two years running, and he is in line to win it its third. Reilly is also a bully (and worse, as we'll discover) who trashes all of Gonzo's article ideas. He and his jocks beat up Gonzo's friend, the wonderfully named Scott Marshall Schneeman (Edward Gelbinovich), giving him an gate-enhanced atomic wedgie. Scott's predicament leads Gonzo to turn his "first day of school" article into an expose on the bullied kids. Reilly edits out all but two paragraphs of Gonzo's article, forcing him to start his own underground newspaper. The first article is all about Scott and his run-ins with the jocks.
Opening theatrically in select cities and available On Demand through Comcast, Amazon, Hulu and other providers. For more information, visit TribecaFilm.com.
by Odie Henderson
The technological weapon of choice is refreshingly analog: Cassette tapes containing the vitriolic, violent rants of two men living together in an apartment in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. The men, Raymond Hoffman and Peter Haskett, proclaim their disdain for one another in conversations loud enough to wake the dead. Haskett is an openly gay man, Hoffman a raging homophobe, and both are well beyond casual drinking.
The combination of opposites fueled by days of constant boozing provides enough hate to fuel the furnace that heats Hell, all of it recorded on those cassette tapes. The men become celebrities of sorts after their recordings go the pre-YouTube version of viral in the early 1990's. Though Ray and Pete provide the content, the reward goes to the men who recorded them, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D. The documentary, "Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure" documents their return to the scene of their run-in with fame, a pink apartment complex they affectionately called Pepto-Bismol Palace.
Ray and Pete lived next door to Eddie and Mitchell from 1987 to 1989. After Eddie signs the lease, their landlord warns them that their neighbors can get "a little loud." When the duo finds out how loud, Eddie confronts Ray. A drunken Ray threatens to kill him before returning his threats to Pete. Neither "Cops" nor "Judge Judy" were on the air in 1987, so the duo didn't realize they could have their blitzed neighbors dragged out into the street on camera before suing the pantyhose off their trifling landlord. Being from a small town instead of a crime-ridden metropolis, Eddie and Mitchell also seem unaware that, if the walls are thin enough to hear the neighbors, bullets will have no problem getting through them. So, rather than call their landlord or the cops, Eddie and Mitchell decide to record Ray and Pete instead.
Mitchell tells us that Ray and Pete are aware they are being recorded, yet they continue to scream obscenity at each other. After collecting 10 or so hours of material, he and Eddie loan some of the cassettes to friends. The friends find the tapes hilarious, and pass them on to other friends who do the same. Soon, Pete and Ray are underground sensations, and Pete's constant refrain of "Shut Up, Little Man!" becomes the catchphrase of the cassette crowd. Comic books based on the material are drawn by Daniel Clowes ("Ghost World"). Puppet shows are performed using dialogue from the tapes. A playwright and future nemesis of Eddie and Mitchell named Gregg Gibbs writes a one act play with Pete and a murderous Ray as characters. Even Devo samples the dialogue for one of their songs.
Playing in theaters nationwide Thursday, August 4, 2011. Details here.
by Steven Boone
"The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience" captures a dance music scene I tend to find noisy and vapid. But that's me. If you're a big fan of DJ-based acts like 12th Planet, Major Lazer, Moby and will.i.am, or just a true devotee of the rave scene, this film is immersive, passionate about its subject and visually striking. Director Kevin Kerslake seems to have as many cameras on hand as the Beastie Boys handed out to concertgoers in their gonzo 2006 music doc "Awesome; I F----n Shot That!"
It helps that Kerslake is a veteran music video director (R.E.M., Nirvana) whose career is probably older than most of the screaming kids in the crowd. He shows no restraint in dropping the camera deep into the mob like a performer into a mosh pit but doesn't let the chaos take over. It also helps that, right up front, like Michael Bay showing us a Victoria's Secret derriere in 3-D at the start of his last Transformers movie, Kerslake crams as many shots of unbelievably gorgeous girls doing cartwheels in clown makeup and lingerie as mathematically possible.
Fandor.com will present "Sleep Furiously" along with the featurette "Sketchbook for the Library Van," for a free 24-hour On Demand window on July 29th. Details here. Also playing Aug. 12-18 at Facets Cinematheque in Chicago.
by Odie Henderson
"You've got to have characters to make a community."
What does it mean to a community when a school shuts down? Here in the U.S., it means either the state doesn't have any money to run it or the kids have burned it down. In Trefeurig, Wales, however, the dissolution of a school is something far more ominous, especially if it is the only school in town. "Sleep Furiously" uses Trefeurig's school closing as its central event yet only hints at its deeper implications: Youth may be wasted on the young, but the world can't continue to exist without them.
"Sleep Furiously" is not a conventional documentary. There are no talking heads, no narration, and no explicit point of view, pro or con, toward its subject. Like the Ross Brothers' "45365," "Sleep Furiously" is an observation of its director's hometown, specifically the people who inhabit it. They go about their business and the filmmaker records them. It is only after the final frames are projected that we realize this film is depicting the collateral damage that comes with technological change.
Filmmaker Gideon Koppel returns to Trefeurig, where his parents were refugees from Germany during World War II, but he is not there to interview anyone nor is he there to mourn or celebrate the changing of the tide. He's just a fly on the wall as the residents go about their daily routines armed with the knowledge that they may be the last to perform them. We meet the townsfolk, all of whom remain nameless, and follow them through a year of seasons. School events and county fairs are shown. Scenes are cut abruptly, and they are sometimes scored (by Aphex Twin) and sometimes silent. There is no explanation for any of this, and I had to be told by another reviewer that one of the people Koppel follows is his own mother. Viewers may find this narrative minimalism frustrating, or even pretentiously arty, but remember: It's only pretentious if it doesn't hold your attention. "Sleep Furiously" held mine; I was lulled by its meditative quality and taken aback by the director's occasional use of the entire canvas of the screen.
● Jackboots on Whitehall (DVD/VOD/Digital cable July 26) ● American Grindhouse (DVD/Hulu July 26)
by Steven Boone
The animated comedy "Jackboots on Whitehall" does its best to tweak every British stiff-upper-lip stereotype ever perpetuated in film and popular culture since World War II. This satire employs puppet animation techniques familiar from "Team America: World Police" and classic George Pal puppetoons, but with exquisite production design more akin to Wes Anderson's stop-motion "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Instead of marionettes or stop-motion, however, filmmakers Edward and Rory McHenry employ animatronic dolls enhanced with CGI.
The period detail in this account of Hitler's alt-reality occupation of London is stunning: a convincing re-creation of Whitehall, the road whose major landmarks comprise the seat of British government; the airship Hindenburg, which, in this reality, never blew up and now serves as a Nazi attack vehicle; Hadrian's Wall and the hills of Scotland; vintage fighter planes, palaces, tanks, luxury cars... Equally meticulous is the costuming, from Winston Churchill's pinstriped suit to the Raj soldiers' blue turbans.
While the McHenry brothers' puppets aren't articulated beyond some binary limb and neck movements, they are sculpted with such expressive character it's easy to suspend disbelief. Exuberant character voices help. Timothy Spall as a gruff Churchill, Alan Cumming as a fey Hitler and Tom Wilkinson as a simpering Goebbels play it lip-smackingly broad. Richard E. Grant portrays a tightly wound priest so perpetually furious that its possible he gave his entire performance through clenched teeth. Ewan McGregor lends the unlikely farm boy hero some warmth. Along the way, some downright filthy jokes fly by almost subliminally, under kids' radar (including a visual joke last seen in "Boogie Nights"). In fact, so much of the humor is adult, whether in raunchiness or complexity, that Jackboots on Whitehall is less a family film than one for liberal parents and their precocious teens. The DVD includes a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary that details just how much love went into this handcrafted epic.