Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Inside Out

It's been two years since the under-rated Monsters University, the last Pixar film to be released until Inside Out, and it's good to finally have a new one. (In theory, we also get Pixar's The Good Dinosaur this year around Thanksgiving.) This latest film is directed by Pete Docter, who also directed Up and Monsters Inc, as well as being one of the writers of the original Toy Story and Toy Story 2.

To top it all off, Inside Out is the highest ranked Pixar movie on IMDB and the second highest animated film overall (behind Miyazaki's Spirited Away), though that'll probably settle in the coming months, and was the second highest ranked Pixar movie on Rotten Tomatoes (behind Toy Story 2), though it has already settled there into sixth place (behind the Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo and Up).

That's a lot of hype to live up to.

The Boy was not blown away, however, at least in part because he has very high standards for Pixar films. But there may be other reasons, as well.

The story is a sort of coming-of-age: An 11-year-old girl named Riley has lead a largely joyful life in Minnesota, when her parents relocate the family to San Francisco in a fairly disastrous (for a kid) move. She struggles with her loss, her loneliness, and the pressure to stay upbeat through all this while, you know, being a pre-teen.

The twist is classic Pixar: Most of the movie's focus is inside Riley's head, where little entities representing five emotions (joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust) themselves struggle over who gets to control Riley's outward state, with Joy (Amy Poehler) being the main driver and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) being the misunderstood outcast.

This is similar to the premise of the not-well-remembered Fox sitcom "Herman's Head"—but Toy Story was hardly the first to posit a universe where toys were alive. (It was a common cartoon subject back in the '30s.) Furthermore, much like Toy Story, there's no way this premise holds up under serious scrutiny, just from a philosophical level. (I mean, think about it: The vast majority of toys are unloved in a landfill, which would make for an entirely different movie.)

It is, however, an amazingly well-constructed aesthetic representation of things that's useful for telling a story.

Here, our Emotion-people are looking out for Riley, but they're not really aware of how anything works, or what's going on. The way it seems to work is that the five big guys sit in headquarters determining how Riley reacts, which in turn creates memories.

Memories have various purposes: Most are put in to long term storage, but some are used to create "islands" which are focal points of Riley's personality. There's a family island, a friendship island, an honesty island, a hockey island (she's from Minnesota, she plays hockey), and so on.

A few memories are "core" memories, and these apparently determine who Riley is, emotionally. Under Joy's watchful hand, those memories are all happy. The story really gets going when Sadness starts going around touching all the memories, including some core ones. In the struggle to reclaim them, Joy and Sadness end up getting sucked out of HQ into long-term memory.

And the movie becomes a road trip at that point, with Joy and Sadness wandering around Riley's mind, encountering people, getting lost in abstract thought, riding the train of thought, avoiding the memory dumb (where memories go to die).

Actually, it's a lot like Toy Story in structure, when you think about it. Which is not a bad thing.

Inside Out plays to virtually all Pixar's strengths. It's gorgeous, of course, occasionally bordering on the photorealistic. I had a jarring moment when we switched from inside Riley's head to out, where she's playing hockey. Although Pixar stays well away from the uncanny valley by keeping the faces of their humans sufficiently cartoon-y, there's a moment in the hockey game were you don't see faces that looks for a moment like video of a real game.

But the fantastic premise allows them to make arbitrarily beautiful things. The Emotions themselves are fuzzy around the edges. The memories glow in vibrant colors. The "abstract thought" sequence allows them to play with perspective.

The bar is so high for Pixar here, you'd be disappointed if it were anything less than dazzling.

What's more Pixar was founded on emotion. Lasseter rejected the "tough, edgy" Toy Story premise that (IIRC) Katzenberg tried to foist on him, and went for a story about toys with human frailties and feelings. So a movie that directly deals with feelings and expression is square in their wheelhouse.

And the road trip allows them to make so many funny and poignant moments which hit parents probably harder than kids. Growing up is kind of a loss for parents, after all: You have these things that depend on you and bring you joy (and frustration, of course) and you get attached to their whimsy, their little joys, and you want to protect them from all the bad stuff.

Which, of course, you can't. And really shouldn't. And that's really what this movie is about.

And that brings me back to The Boy, and the other reason I think he didn't like this as much as I did. He has no experience with this. Parts of it must seem silly and sentimental to him, and he is fundamentally unsentimental (as I was at his age).

Do I think it's a bit overhyped? Yeah, probably. For various reasons, we saw it without The Flower and The Barbarienne, though, and I'll happily go see it again.

The Wolfpack

Okay, so a couple of weeks ago, I told you how much better your life is because you don't live in a Russian landfill. This week, I'm going to tell you how great a parent you are, because you didn't keep your wife and seven children locked up in a small lower East Side apartment for 20-odd years.

This is The Wolfpack, the tale of six boys who grow up in an apartment, and whose only encounter with the outside world is a window on the 16th floor and movies. Lots and lots of movies that they watch incessantly and re-enact.

It's hard to understand how these things happen, but they do. Or, maybe they don't. There's some question as to whether or this story is real. I will review it as though it is.

In this case, the story is that a young woman from the midwest is travelling around Peru and falls in love with an Incan hiking guide. They move back to New York City with an eye toward heading to the socialist paradises of Scandinavia and Finland, where all Incans must ultimately feel most at home.

Dad, Oscar by name, finds the denizens of the lower East Side, where they live on welfare in public housing, not to his liking, and not the sort of people he wants to raise his children around. This ultimately translates into never letting any of them out of doors, except maybe closely supervised walks with no interaction, anywhere from bi-monthly to bi-annually.

Dad's also got a Hindu thing going, where he wants to have 10 kids by his wife. The first is a girl with Turner Syndrome, though the movie really doesn't discuss this much. I think that's probably a mistake, as having a handicapped child can be kind of spooky, and stressful in a way that might explain Oscar's protectiveness toward the boys.

All of the kids are named after avatars of Hindu gods, like "Bhagavan", "Krsna", and they all have super-long black hair and totally Incan noses.

They're also wildly creative, or perhaps recreative, re-enacting scenes from their favorite movies, especially Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Oh, and the various of the recent Batman movies. They make props from garbage, though they do a really good job of painting them.

The first two acts here are dark and weird, because this is a dark situation. The last act involves the oldest son emerging from the apartment (and then getting arrested, since he chose to visit banks and grocery stores wearing a hand-crafted Michael-Myers-from-Halloween mask). In remarkably felicitious—yes, even suspicious—timing, director Crystal Moselle is there for the big moments of their lives: Going out to a real movie for the first time, seeing Central Park for the first time, estranged mother calling grandmother for the first time.

Although, as noted by one of the sons, one couldn't be completely free of the fear their childhood imparted to them, they do seem to manage to launch—and come to think of it, in ways a lot of parents of some children with normal upbringings might be jealous of.

Three-point scale:

1. Assuming it's genuine, this is (of course) an interesting topic. It raises so many questions it can't possibly hope to answer. The family reportedly lived entirely on various handouts. It wouldn't be possible for this to occur without those handouts. The parents couldn't have had seven children; or the mom couldn't have stayed home to take care of them.

2. It's all on hand-held camera, which is appropriate here. The best shots (visually) are at the end, when they're being set up by the son with film-directing aspirations for his project. I think the subject matter could've been a bit more detail-oriented, which would've answered a lot more questions. Like, at one point, they're assaulted by SWAT agents—the camera's not there for that—because of their prop guns. It all works out, but why not interview the SWAT guy?

3. Bias? Well, if things are as they seem, it's actually pretty neutral. The temptation to paint Oscar as a devil would have to be extreme, and he merely seems wrong, stubborn and maybe a little bit crazy here.

It's a fine example of documentary-making, regardless of veracity. And while there were quite a few parts that made me go "Hmmmm...", I felt it might be because the director sort of fell into the job, and she was interested in the people. It may never have occurred to her to go interview other people in the story.

And that's the most suspicious part. Can you really live on the 16th floor of a building for 20 years with nobody taking an interest in you? On the other side, is it possible that these six distinct looking Incan-Americans have been wandering around New York City and nobody saw this film or heard about it and said, "What? Those guys? I see 'em running around the neighborhood all the time."

So. Grain of salt and all that, it's still a good story.

Balls Out

The sports parody movie has taken a beating in recent years. Actually, most parodies have, being locked into themselves being weak parodies of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker classic film Airplane! Which tells you something about that film, which owes no small part of its success to being different from anything else at the time.

Dying, Ed Wynn noted, is easy. Comedy on the other hand is hard, so not-negative reviews for Intramural (retitled as Balls Out by some clever PR wag, no doubt) tempted The Boy in to the only showings for this film, which played for one week, last showing every night.

As far as I know, it only played in that theater for that week. Anywhere. In the world. (You can get it on Amazon, at least.)

It was made and starred people I've never heard of, though a few of them have been around for a while, and some were or are "Saturday Night Live" regulars. (I can't imagine that carries much cachet these days but what do I know?)

The ominousness continues as the film opens with the Orion logo. I've been seeing that logo more and more lately, so I can only assume the once great/once bankrupt company...well, had its logo purchased by some distribution company.

The premise is that, during the final game of a freshman Intramural flag football league, our heroes, the Panthers succeed in a last minute play to win the game—at the cost of one of their players being paralyzed from the penis down. Yes. Right from there.

It's four years later after the credits roll and down-on-his luck fifth-year senior Caleb wants to reassemble the Panthers (who haven't spoken since that game, apparently) for a last chance at glory before going on to his horrible, horrible life of wealth with his rich, monstrous girlfriend and her overbearing dad.

Yeah, look, the more I explain the plot, the dumber it's going to sound. 'cause it is dumb.

But look, there were a lot of ways to go, here. They could've played it mostly straight with some wacky situations, somewhere past Dodgeball land into, say, The Replacements or Major League, or they could've gone for full-on Airplane! style absurd. The former probably would've been boring, and the latter would've been an atrocity, if modern attempts are any guide.

So, where they sit is in this realm of silliness that has enough story structure to hang on to—the hero meets the girl of his dreams and the villain uses his fiancee to create the necessary 2nd act nadir—and never goes into the surreal. At one point, their scrappy coach tells them (in the words of FDR) "Anyone can piss on the floor. It takes a real man to shit on the ceiling. And that's NOT a metaphor!"

So, at one point, they actually try it. It's not a high water mark for the film, but it sort of makes sense in the scheme of things.

There is some cleverness here. Scrappy coach—the wheelchair bound victim of the first game injury—explains everything in terms of sports movies early on, and there's a montage of an entire movie with all the characters going through those steps. At that point, I thought, well, crap, now we've seen the whole movie—except that instead the narrative uses an entirely different set of sports movie clichés.

I dunno. It won us over. It just kept throwing joke after joke, without reaction takes (which are murder when a joke fails), and without apology. "Just keep up with us," it seems to say, "and we'll get to something you like." It's so low-budget and earnest, you end up kind of rooting for it like an underdog sports team.

So, maybe only half the jokes land. There are a lot of jokes. The characterization is cartoonish, but you still kind of care about the characters.

There were only two guys in the theater beside us, a couple of dude-bros (in the parlance of our time) who were laughing hysterically at most of it. So, not for everyone, for sure, but definitely for those guys.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pirates of Penzance (2015, Mike Leigh)

And he's hardly ever sick at seaaaaa!

Ha! Fooled you, that's not a line from Pirates of Penzance but H.M.S. Pinafore, which we all know, of course, from Sideshow Bob singing it in the classic 5th Season "The Simpson's" episode, "Cape Feare". Or, you know, from some other source, if you're the sort of person who's into 19th century light opera. (Maybe "The Brady Bunch". Weren't Carol and Mike Gilbert and Sullivan fans?)

Welp. My music education had a lot of heavy opera in it but no light opera, so this was my first crack at G&S, which is also director Mike Leigh's (Vera Drake, Mr. Turner and, significantly, Topsy-Turvy) first crack at it, if I'm not mistaken.

There's a lot good here: The source material, for example. Being 19th century, a lot of its cleverness is hard to pick up on. Rhyming, e.g., "strategy" with "sat a gee" (meaning "rode a horse", apparently) is the sort of thing you're not likely to pick up and understand just from hearing it. (Seriously, check out all the footnotes in the Wiki article.)

That's from the Major General's classic song, sung by Andrew Shore who sounded like he was struggling with it, honestly. I may be misinterpreting that, since the song is supposed to sound a bit like he's struggling for rhymes. He sails through the rest of the opera masterfully, though. (Other reviews praise his performance, so I may be wrong. You can hear it here.)

The talent is top notch, which I guess shouldn't be a surprise, given it's the English National Opera. It's not unkind to say that the singing and playing were better than the recent show in L.A., but fair to note that this wasn't a one-off (i.e., this English crew played a number of shows and have possibly done the material before). At the same time, live music is much different (and better) as an experience, especially live unamplified music.

I particularly liked Rebecca de Pont Davies as the closest thing this good-natured show has to a heel: The conniving 47-year-old Ruth, who attempts to use the poor 21-year-old Frederic's sense of duty to trap him into marriage, and later to force him back into the pirate crew. Somehow Davies manages to do the whole thing bug-eyed.

But, really, they're all good. My only complaint is the same one I had at the L.A. opera, namely that operatic singing makes it hard to understand what's going on, and it's sometimes just too much for me. I concede that I would probably like the (horrors!) Papp version with Linda Rondstadt and Kevin Kline.

The sets are very spare. Abstract, mostly, even as the costumes are very traditional. I had no problem with that. I also didn't have any problem with Leigh's direction, either in terms of how it was staged or in how it was presented filmed. In terms of the former, it was simple and straightforward, without a lot of elaborate dance numbers, e.g., or fancy flourishes.

In terms of the latter, I absolutely hate when the camera guy swooshes and swoops and does extreme close-ups for a performance meant to be seen on stage. You can't tell what's going on, and you have no idea what the live audience is meant to be seeing, and they're the ones the production was largely made for.

So, overall, a good time. And the material definitely stays with you long afterwards.

Testament of Youth

I had sort of relegated Testament of Youth to "last ditch" territory. You know, where you're hard up for a film to see, and you've seen everything else (or ruled everything else out). It's not that the feature debut of seasoned TV director James Kent ("EastEnders", "Marchlands") was poorly received, it's that it was received with a polite clap, and words like "competent".

For a period piece about World War I England, that filtered through to me as "boring".

But it's not boring at all. It is deeply sad, as World War I movies tend to be. But neither ineffectively nor cheaply so, and both The Boy and I were quite pleasantly surprised at how good it was, and how it managed to create suspense out of foregone conclusions (it's WWI, which has a death rate that gives George R. R. Martin the shakes), and likable characters from not necessarily likable templates.

Indeed, the story it tells is, from the outset, not one that appeals to me. Our heroine is the real life Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina, A Royal Affair) who observes the fate of her brother, her fianceé, her rebuked-but-oh-so-English-dignified suitor as they are rerouted from their privileged lives at Oxford to decidedly less privileged environs in trenches.

The real-life Brittain (understandably) became a pacifist after her experiences, but the understandability of that doesn't really deflect from the whole obsession with pacifism that led to the disastrous consequences of World War II.

However, Kent and screenwriter Towhidi (Calendar Girls) stay out of the political, except at the very end, where we can completely understand and empathize with Brittain's motives, because they've given us a chance to experience her story.

Anyway, when we first meet Brittain, she's a spoiled little brat, in that Upper Middle Class white woman way that seems to produce the majority of feminist leaders. Her angst stems from not being allowed to go to Oxford (or Somerville, which is the female version of Oxford but on the same campus, I think).

Her father allows her to sit for the test, which requires an essay written in Latin, for which she is unprepared. (The implication is that she's an auto-didact, but perhaps only in Latin.)

She gets in anyway, of course, but her plans are derailed a bit when a minor Archduke is assassinated far, far away.

The first thing she does is bully her parents (Emily Watson, The Book Thief, Anna Karenina) and especially her father (Dominic West, 300, John Carter) into letting her brother (Taron Egerton, Kingsman) go. Dad's reluctant, not really believing all this "the war will be over in a few months" talk.

Her tune changes, of course, when talking about her beau (Kit Harrington, who actually looks more the age he's playing here than he does on "Game of Thrones" because he's so clean-shaven) who also insists on going to war.

What salvages this story is that Brittain herself goes to war, in the only way she can, as a volunteer nurse. First in England, but finally on the French front. Apart from her jealousy when her beau is on leave—realizing that he has a bond with his troop mates she can never share—she becomes a realized human being at this point, and the war stops being about her, and more about the soldiers fighting it. (Though a trip back home to visit her increasingly grief-addled mother shows a characteristic lack of patience for anyone not exactly where she is in her understanding of life, the universe and everything.)

Then it kind of hits you: These people—the real people—they're all between about 18-23 during the events depicted. And despite being the sort of effete-seeming upper class that was so popular to lampoon in my youth, they had a toughness, a sense of responsibility and a maturity we don't expect today out of our 30-somethings.

And there's a whole lot of death they experienced.

It's very well done. Very human. Interesting. Moving. And overall better than the generally polite accolades it's being given.

Spy

I'm not a big fan of the Fat Man Falls Down genre, as I've mentioned over the years. My favorite fat guy actor/comedian was John Candy and I never remember him falling down. I'm sure he must have, but mostly I remember him for his combination of everyman haplessness and everyman decency.

As you might imagine, then, I've got an even stronger aversion to Fat Woman Falls Down, even as a concept. Double-standards, sure. But I've got room for all kinds of standards, double, triple, quadruple, 50 shades of, whatever.

Spy has a 95% critical rating on RT and an 85% rating from the audience, though, and that's just rare as hen's teeth for any kind of comedy. And for spy comedies? I guess they're not universally bad, but they probably hit less often than horror films.

Still, Paul Feig is a funny dude, and Melissa McCarthy reasonably so, as well as being a charming actress, so off we went, with a certain amount of trepidation.

The short version? It works. They don't do the fat-schtick slapstick too much and Feig for sure gives his character a sense of dignity-while-suffering-indignities that McCarthy is more than equal to the task of pulling off. And there are a lot of other very good things about it, which largely offset the not-so-good things, at least in terms of a summer popcorn flick.

The premise, which may not be obvious from the trailers, is that support crew person Susan "Coop" Cooper (McCarthy) ends up going into the field when—get this—the security records for CIA's field agents are all compromised. (Couldn't ever happen, right? What a larf!) She has to avenge/take over for her field agent (Jude Law) whom, naturally, she's in love with, but who also degrades her.

So, what works: They don't, for the most part, make "Coop" (McCarthy) into a magical super-spy. This falls apart at the end of second act where she sees things as though she's still at her computer. I thought maybe I missed the explanation for this, but if so, so did the kids.

By the way, the idea of having a set of eyes watching the surrounding environment alerting you so that you can do all those super-human spy tricks is the only realistic explanation for the those sorts of heroic antics I've ever heard. I rather liked that.

When Coop goes into the field, she's given remarkably unromantic cover stories (Divorced mom, cat-ady, Beaches fan) and spy "gadgets" (hemorrhoid pads, stool softeners, Beaches watch). It's hit-and-miss joke time, with all but one of the items never coming back.

The circumstances of the plot force her to be more engaged than she's supposed to be. That worked well. At one point, she's in a position to compromise the mission, and she uses her friend instead of trying to go it alone. That also worked well.

There's a lot of swearing. It sort of works at first. It wore me out halfway through.

The plot twists are pretty standard but not really the point.

Then there's the action. And, here's the thing: McCarthy is really fat. (They've surrounded her with women who are freakishly thin, too, which I thought might have been...I dunno...some sort of statement.) Now, I've talked about "body types wrong for the part" here before, from both angles (ha!) but it's egregious here.

McCarthy waddles. She's in several pursuit-on-foot sequences and even though they play a lot of them for laughs, it's obvious she's just not suited to the action. The kids didn't notice, and you might not either, but her stunt double is probably 50 pounds lighter than she is. She did better in The Heat, I thought, though that may have been lower demands and more careful editing.

It's not just weight, either: She's 44. You can point to guys like Keanu Reeves or Jason Statham, but: a) They're guys; b) They make their living staying in shape. Even much older guys, like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, can pull a lot of this stuff off because they've worked hard their whole lives at it. (And the guys who don't, like Harrison Ford, end up looking goofy in action movies as they get older, too.)

The glamor scenes are a bit off, too, in that regard. The makeovers don't work so well, making me wonder if they should've called in Lisa from Lee Lee's.

It feels a little pander-y to me. And there's a whole, I dunno, universe continuity problem because, you know, in the real world McCarthy wouldn't seem extraordinarily large. But this is Hollywood-land where everyone is super lean, and "fat" is, like, America Ferrera or Whitney Thompson.

But these are quibbles with a largely entertaining movie.

Jason Statham is hilarious. Steals the show as a parody of his super-intense persona. Jude Law does a great job as the spy who doesn't love her. Allison Janney is typically perfect as the boss with no sense of humor. Miranda Hart, as the pal, did not annoy me as much as she doubtless could.

Rose Byrne reprises her role from Bridesmaids as the beautiful-but-bitchy whatever. (That's some kind of weird chick dynamic right there.) Rounding out the Fieg-chick-cicrle is Jamie Denbo (from The Heat). The Flower was excited to see "Firefly" alumnus Morena Baccarin as the perfect sweet-and-capable girl spy.

Bobby Cannavale does a really fine job with what's probably the most clichéd character in the film. (I guess stereotyping men is still cool. And Italians.)

Anyway, the kids both liked it, and more than I did. The Boy's expectations were quite low and this well exceeded them. I got that same sort of feeling I get from a lot of mainstream films: I'm enjoying this now and I'll forget it as soon as I walk out of the theater.

Love & Mercy

Many years ago, in the early days of the blog, I mentioned one of Bill Maher's dumbest bits. "I'm not promoting drug use," he'd say, "but it hasn't hurt my record collection any." To which I always wanted to retort, "Yeah, those latest albums from Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious, et al, are just great aren't they?"

I can't say Brian Wilson's psychosis was brought on or got out of control because he took LSD, but I'm guessing a drug that's actually designed to simulate insanity isn't the best thing to take for someone who is already inclined that way.

Anyway, it was cool to see this movie so shortly after The Wrecking Crew, since they feature fairly prominently here.

My aversion to musical biopics aside, this is a particularly good and different one. The story is split between the '60s, as we watch Brian Wilson's genius blossom into amazing music and spiral into insanity, and the late '80s/early '90s, where the shell of Brian Wilson falls in love with a cadillac salesgirl who ultimately ends up saving his life from a Svengali/Mengele psychiatrist.

The performances are great. Paul Dano (Being Flynn, Looper, 12 Years A Slave) plays younger Brian and actually takes the bold step of putting on some weight, besides seeming to have utterly absorbed Wilson's personality. John Cusack is his usual slender self, and I felt like he had the easier, if weirder, role as the more burnt-out Wilson. Paul Giamatti is as only Paul Giamatti can be, as the evil Dr. Landy.

The hero of the story, though, perhaps oddly, is Melinda, who finds herself immediately attracted to the romantic oddball who wants to buy a Cadillac, and just so happens to be a titan of '60s pop music. Elizabeth Banks does a sensitive, wonderful job here.

The Flower loves "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" because it's so upbeat. I was kind of glad she didn't come with us to see this, since the story isn't, overall, a happy one.

But is interesting. The movie gives us little tastes of Wilson's life, with big chunks missing and implied, which rather adds to the feeling that it's been a sort of fractured life. Forgoing the usual rags-to-riches clichés, we start with the Beach Boys at their popular height, the cruel pettiness of the Wilsons' father, the bold experimentation that led to Pet Sounds which, I'm told, is particularly significant in the rock genre. (In The Wrecking Crew, someone mentions that Beatles' producer George Martin was trying to emulate Pet Sounds on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.)

So you get—sort of refreshingly really—Wilson the artist straining against The Beach Boys as a product, and not really being understood, even as he's making songs that are iconic today. This is a common struggle in the biopic but it has some authenticity here.

Meanwhile, the "modern" Brian has kids he's not allowed to see, and a dead brother who still kind of haunts him, and a "doctor" who's driving him to produce,

Anyway, it is very good, dramatically speaking. I have no confidence that it's anything like a fair representation of the man's life, which is my usual problem with musical biopics.

The Boy, who has no knowledge of or interest in the music also liked it a great deal.

Unfriended

I went to see, on the recommendation of the white deer of the Internet, Darcysport, this horror movie based on cyberspace relationships: Unfriended. Horror recommendations are kind of important, because you can't trust audiences or critics, quite frankly, but specific individuals can give you a good insight. A Darcysport recommendation tells me: It's not gonna be too gory, and the social-media is probably not social-media beyond my comprehension.

Unfriended has a higher critic rating than audience rating, and I may be wrong but I suspect the movie drops 20 points of popularity overall because of its central conceit.

The story is about five friends, on the anniversary of the suicide of a sixth, who are being haunted, stalked and—no spoilers here—killed. This is one of the standard horror plots to emerge in the '80s, along with "kids go to a cabin in the woods" and "kids are stalked by supernatural force", understanding of course that the Venn diagram of these movies has a lot of overlap. (Exercise for the reader: Name a horror film about kids who go to a cabin in the woods where they are stalked by a supernatural force that is the revenant of a school friend who died.)

But the conceit here is that we're witnessing the entire proceedings through the laptop of the main character, and the haunting primarily takes the form of making their computers act up.

So, yeah, I thin that's for 20 points off the top, right there: For people above a certain age, their computers always act up in spooky ways and they just turn them off and wait for their kids or grandkids to fix them.

But, you know, saying "pull the plug" or "take out the battery" isn't really much different from saying "leave the house" or "take the next plane to Sheboygan". There's always a contrivance, like the doors slam shut, or (in this case) the ghost's assurance that you'll die if you leave the Skype chat. You either buy in or you don't—which, by the way, is why aggregate horror movie scores are so unreliable: A substantial number of people think it lessens them to buy in. (Arguably true of me and superhero movies these days, for that matter. But I'm honest about it, I think.)

So, do I want to see a raft of horror movies that consist of people Skyping? No, I do not. Was this a clever trick for a low-budget (6 figures low, perhaps) flick, and is it done reasonably effectively? Yes, it was.

The Boy also liked it. And, for instance, had no technological complaint.

There are a couple of oddities here. At one point, the lead gets the idea of using ChatRoulette to call for help, the boogen having cut off all other avenues. Since Chatroulette is primarily known for guys displaying their genitals, this was kind of a funny moment at an unlikely time.

Actually, the whole movie is an ad for a variety of online services: Gmail, Skype, YouTube, ChatRoulette (sorta), Facebook and so on. That should've covered their budget right there. It's inconceivable to me that considerable discussions weren't had with Google and Microsoft.

Another oddity is how truly awful everyone involved seems to be. For high school kids, they've got a ton of skeletons in their respective closets. But I guess that's what happens when you're in your mid- to late-20s and still in high school. (Of course, having adults pushing 30 star as high school kids isn't the least bit odd, .)

Anyway, the movie gets in, gets out, and doesn't belabor the point. Worth a look-see.

Furious 7

Around the fifth movie of the "Fast and Furious" franchise, I started hearing what amounted to reluctant praise from the critical set. I can't remember who, but one critic described it as a series of (if I recall correctly): punching people, car chases, butts, repeat. But at the end of this said, again rather sheepishly, that he found that he enjoyed it.

Well, I can get behind that. If you're in the mood for fight/chase/butts, then a movie that delivers on that promise is just the ticket and no shame to be had there. Unless, of course, you find it to be beneath you to be in the mood for F/C/B. At which point, you should probably just get over yourself.

I didn't see any of those movies because I'm just not that into cars. My reluctance carried over into 5 and 6, but the buzz on Furious 7 is just crazy good. 85% from filmgoers on Rotten Tomatoes doesn't mean too much because you gotta figure the audience is self-selecting, i.e., the people who go see these movies are the sorts of people who generally like these movies.

But 80%+ from critics? That puts it comfortably ahead of Avengers 2 and Kingsman, and within striking distance of arty fare like When Marnie Was There and Far From The Madding Crowd.

We'd been on a tremendous streak, seeing in order: The Wrecking Crew, Fight Club, The Farewell Party, Kingsman and Something Better To Come. Five movies we really liked or loved right in a row, and we were hoping to extend the streak into six.

And. Well. OK. It's overhyped. In fact, I sort of think that the high score has something to do with the death of Paul Walker. Oh, not a lot. It's not crazy ahead of Fast 5, which is in the mid-70s. But enough to make it seem like it's going to cross genre boundaries and win a lot of non-fans over.

It's not. Not that it's not good. It reminds me of '80s action movies, where plot holes are papered over by action scenes and you just have to go with it. The action is good and there's a story where our heroes are being chased down by Jason Statham for their actions in F&F6. James Wan (of Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring) has a sure hand at the sort of big-budget CGI set pieces that are all the rage these days, which is perhaps a bit surprising, but bodes well for his upcoming Aquaman picture. Or at least as well as any movie about Aquaman can.

He also manages to punctuate the action scenes with some pretty solid, if fundamentally a little goofy, emotional points. (How goofy? Amnesia goofy!)

Anyway, if you don't like this sort of thing, the fact that this is a pretty good example of the genre isn't going to change your mind.

The plot...no, really, the plot....is that in order to find Evil Statham, they need to use a super-duper computer program that hacks into all cameras (a la The Dark Knight), and they can't do that without rescuing super-cute computer hacker Nathalie Emmanuel ("Game of Thrones"). This basically follows the standard Bond formula, with each clue leading them to new global locations where they wreck up the place with their cars.

You know, you do have to hand them that: Sure we've seen James Bond globetrot to fight espionage, but have we ever seen him do it with six of his closest buddies in a variety of tricked out sports cars? Usually he gets just one or two, and then some super skis or a jet pack or maybe a helicopter.

Thing is, everywhere they go on their super-secret missions, Statham shows up (in whatever souped-up car he's managed to bring with him!) to give them a hard time. Which, I don't know, made me wonder if maybe they shouldn't have just used whatever intelligence tools Statham was using.

I actually kind of figured this was going to lead to an "your old pal is a mole" plot but while that would've made sense, it would've been super-cheesey. Kurt Russell plays the spook who extorts them into capturing Emmanuel and there's a scene that's right out of Escape From New York where Snake Pliskin (Russell) pretends to make a hand-off and then betrays The President of the United States.

I was glad they didn't do that; the movie wasn't making so much sense that that would've helped anyway. (In order to have the mole plot make sense, somebody would have had to notice that Statham was able to pop up wherever they went.)

There's another WTF-type moment where The Rock, completely out of the loop for most of the movie, drives a car into a flying thing. There's no justification for how he knew where to be, and even less to explain how he managed to time this, but by that time my cerebellum just assumed I'd been smoking a joint and was in a deep, apathetic groove.

Ronda Rousey is in this, for those of you who are into Ronda Rousey. She fights Michelle Rodriguez, which is cute. Rousey looks odd in a too tight evening gown with too tight underwear on underneath, all of which looks like it was made with sparkly spandex or something. She also looks like she would crush Rodriguez in a real fight. (And Rodriguez is a convincing Hollywood tough chick. Her stunt doubles are considerably more plausible than she is here, though.) At 5'7" and 135 pounds, that gives you a sense of how tiny Hollywood people are.

Speaking of odd-looking, Vin Diesel looks weird when he's just standing there. You ever notice that? The Rock might too but he's clever or lucky enough to just be in action scenes, or lying down. But Diesel looks, literally muscle-bound, as in bound by muscles. And I bring this up because the end of the movie is rather emotional, and he has to stand there and let it wash over him while his traps try to rise up and consume his head.

Then there's the whole Paul Walker issue. He and Diesel were the stars of the first movie all the way back in 2001. But then Diesel's career took off and he opted to not be in #2. (Paul Walker commented on that in an interesting way, I thought.) And then neither of them were in three (the studio thought Walker too old, if rumors are true), until Diesel convinced Universal to give up the rights to Riddick in exchange for a cameo.

That one kind of killed the franchise, although star Lucas Black appears here, which is nice for him and perhaps also for longtime F&F fans. By 2009, though, both Walker and Diesel had probably gotten a sense that there careers weren't going to outstrip a successful franchise and the movies came back, less about street racing then action/spy stuff.

But since Walker died halfway through this, the script had to be rewritten and he is a very peripheral character here. And because they recycle both dialogue and shots from the other movies—that is, actually digitally insert him into this—there are some very weird moments, the weirdest being at the end.

Said ending, by the way, really doesn't work. But to explain, I need to spoil. So if you don't want spoilers, stop reading.

There's a happy ending to this. I thought maybe they'd kill Walker's character, but instead they have him reunited with Jordana Brewster and his kid, and all the other characters are watching them play on the beach.

But it's seriously melancholy. They don't act at all like he survived. They act like he's dead and they're watching a ghost. It makes no literal sense whatsoever. It's basically a meta-moment.

I'm not really criticizing. What else are you going to do? Killing him would've been kind of cheap, like using a real tragedy to make a fake tragedy. And if they'd all been happy-go-lucky, well that would've felt weird, too.

So it's a no-win. Wan handles it as well as anyone could, I guess. And Brewster, who mostly deals with body doubles. It's not exactly Aftermath, you know? They managed to salvage the film in a respectful way, but it's not unharmed.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Something Better To Come

At least you don't live in a dump outside of Moscow. There, I've just given you a riposte for anybody who complains about having it rough.

If you need more details, you can watch Polish director Hanna Polak's moving documentary Something Better To Come, which is about people who actually do live in Svalka, a landfill less than fifteen miles from the heart of Moscow.

Live. And breed.

Which, I hasten to add is less of a horror-movie CHUD thing and more a Jurassic Park style "life finds a way" thing. Over the course of 14 years (2 years better than that boy movie!) Polak follows the life of Yulia, a 10 year old girl (at first) whose father died, with the resultant effect being that she and her mother lost their apartment.

This, by the way, doesn't appear to be a "can't make the rent" thing but more of a "the state viewed the apartment as his, and it would take a while for them to apportion a new kvartira for us." It seems as though the USSR went from a hellish vision of Communism to a hellish fusion of Socialism and Fascism.

Complete with the "Oh, we mustn't let the news get out that we have children living in our dumps". Polak doesn't spend a lot of time on it, but occasionally she gets rousted by Junkyard Goons who order her to stop filming.

And in this giant wasteland, the residents provide a service: They are essentially recyclers, finding useful bits of electronics, metals, or anything valuable. They are, naturally, prohibited from selling these things—which reminds me of nothing so much as the laws that were enacted here to require trash separation, pitched as a recycling thing but more meant to prevent the indigent from fishing valuable things out of the trash and possibly finding some self-sufficiency.

In Svalka, the residents are paid in Vodka for the efforts, primarily, which is good because there are a lot of alcoholics among the grownups and the kids need to follow in those footsteps, I guess.

Besides scavenging, the Svalkans also demonstrate considerable creativity setting up places to live—places which are periodically knocked down on the apparent order of the Junkyard's owner.

The movie's not really political in that sense. We don't really see much about the whys and wherefores. Yulia's mom is an alcoholic. A variety of pictures about the dad, positive and negative, are painted over the years which might all have been true, at various points.

We do see amazing amounts of filth, meals cooked from discarded food, lots and lots of drinking, death and despair.

On the three-point-scale:

1. Well, obviously this is an interesting topic: The survival of people at the bottom rung of society that seems pathological invested in keeping them down.

2. The presentation is very much on the phone cam level. It's good enough to see what's going on, and overall adequate to the task, but this is a case where something dressy would feel utterly false. You know, like those reality shows where people are trying to "survive", and you're thinking "But there's a camera crew right there! There's gotta be a craft services table within 15 yards!"

3. Slant? Well, that's interesting. I can't say that the director didn't help Yulia navigate byzantine Russian bureaucracies at any point to try to help her get out of Skalva, and if she did, would that be something to complain about? If there were things Polak saw that she couldn't record, and still feel human, are we to kvetch?

Honestly, I was just happy, thrilled even, that the movie provides some semblance of hope—not necessarily for the denizens of Svalka, because there's damn little hope there—but for Yulia herself, even if Polak was the one who had to help provide it. It doesn't take from the story, but it also doesn't punish the audience for getting invested, so it can veer in to what they call "poverty porn" these days.

The Boy was also moved. This was the sixth and final film in our streak of "way above average" films.

The Shop On Main Street

Every now and again you get a chance to see something unusual, whether it's a forgotten old film, or an impossible indie film from out of nowhere, or just a screening of a film with the cast and crew. For reasons I can't explain, our local theater aired a single showing of the Academy Award winning 1965 Czech flick The Shop On Main Street, replete with a discussion afterwards by Ivan Passer (Cutter's Way, Creator), a Czech director who emigrated to our fair country to ply his trade.

We didn't stay for that. My schedule rearranging required me to rush off as soon as the end credits started.

The hero of our story is a carpenter named Tono, who's fallen on lean times because he's not a party man. And by "party man", I mean "Nazi". His brother (or is it brother-in-law? the subtitles have both him and his wife referring to him as brother-in-law) is the head of the local Czech Nazi club, and has not hooked up Tono with any work like, say, building the big ol' monument to Czech fascism in the town square.

Tono is not especially noble, really. His main objection to fascism is that he's not a joiner and he doesn't like being told what to do, and he kind of thinks they're all jackasses. He's decent, however, and that's sort of a serious liability at this point in WWII Czechoslovakia.

Unfortunately, Tono is also what we might call today a "low information voter", who probably wouldn't vote, to boot. So, when his wife nags him into reconnecting with brother-in-law, and a drunken night results in him being put in possession of a shop formerly owned by a Jewish widow, he doesn't really think through the implications.

And there are oh-so-many implications.

The first thing that comes up is that the 78-year-old widow (her husband died in WWI) doesn't understand why he's there. She's sort of deaf (or pretending) and can't see well enough (or pretending) to read the contract, and she's also sort of daft (or pretending). So, since he isn't a bully, he just pretends he's her helper instead.

And, actually, he is her helper, cleaning and fixing up the place while she orders him around and shoos him from behind the counter. Occasionally he'll give him a very small amount of money—not nearly enough to satisfy his wife.

Which brings up the second point: Rather than helping him out, his dear brother and fellow party members basically have played him for a chump. Sure, he got a shop for free, but what shop is it? The button shop. A notions store. Something that makes no money.

However, his decency does not go unnoticed by the Jewish community who essentially pays him for not throwing the old widow out of her shop and home. And so, for a moment, the wife is happy.

The remarkable thing about this is, it's essentially a humorous slice-of-life type picture, only with the spectre of Nazi-ism hanging over it all.

Of course, it stops being funny when the Nazis move to the forefront. Here again we see Tono with no real concept of what he's dealing with, and worried about the money he might have to forgo, and then further worried that he's been played for an even bigger chump, by being set up to be a "jew lover"—a fate worse than being an actual Jews, he's been reassured many times.

There's a genuineness to it, this willingness of the filmmakers to show the struggle a person might really go through if put into Tono's position. (I'm guessing the Communists had managed to divorce themselves sufficiently from the Fascists at this point that they didn't see an anti-Nazi movie as a threat.) It's at turns harrowing and heartbreaking.

This occasionally turns up on TCM, I think, or you can buy the Criterion discs, but it doesn't appear to be online anywhere. Well worth watching. (100/94 on RT, with a rather small critic/audience sampling.)

Kingsman: The Secret Service

The children were particularly reluctant to view this film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, so much so that I thought I might have to go alone. (Which, honestly: No problem.) But The Boy had kind of been stung by missing John Wick, and perhaps taking a sort of sympathetic approach, agreed to go with me.

For various reasons, we actually went on his birthday, and The Flower came, too.

The ads had put the both of them off this one, looking like a dumb spy/action caper flick, apparently. I had heard a lot of good things about it, and while the RT for critics is only 74%, for the audience it's climbed all the way up to the mid-80s, or what you might call Furious 7 territory.

And, as it turns out, it's a very fine film indeed. In fact, of director Matthew Vaughn's five films (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, Stardust and Layer Cake, all co-written with the rather super-heroine-y Jane Goldman), this is my favorite and, I think, the most memorable.

It's a standard enough premise: A young man (relative newcomer Taron Egerton) gets invited to be part of a super-elite spy group, on the basis of his father having laid down his life years before for one of said members of the spy group, played by Mr. Colin Firth. (It's a very Firth-y film, ladies.)

We get a little Hogwart's/Dr. X's School stuff at the front and, naturally, a back-end where the action turns more serious. The "serious" plot running through this is that an evil tech genius (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson) has some plan for world domination involving cell phones and centered around solving the Global Warming problem once and for all.

It's preposterous, but in a knowing, charming way that deliberately pokes at the grim Bond reboot and even the superhero movies. It's also unabashedly critical of "elites" which, I think, is what turned off some of the critics. But whatever you think of environmentalism, it is probably the best vehicle for a would-be sympathetic super-villain to gain world control.

On top of top-notch action and cloak-and-dagger antics, there are a lot of nice little touches in the film. In the comic book, terrorists start by capturing Mark Hamill, apparently. In the movie, the terrorists capture an environmental scientist, which makes more sense for the plot—but he's played by Mark Hamill!

Sofia Boutella plays the best heavy I can recall in years, which is kind of a feat, since she probably weighs 110 pounds and is a double amputee (in the film)—with those super-fast blade legs that actually have blades attached. It's very cool.

At no point do the proceedings take themselves any more seriously than they must, which makes for some nice dramatic twists: There are things that happen that, tonally, you just don't expect. But we don't expect them because we don't see them much anymore: Movies either go super-serious and heavy or completely farcical.

Michael Caine plays the head of Kingsman. Samantha Womack (best known around casa 'strom as the chick in the 1997 Mars-Needs-Women flick Breeders, which is primarily noteworthy for being worse than the 1986 film of the same title and theme, and for the lurid death of its other female lead) plays mom. Sophie Cookson as Hermione. Edward Holcroft as Malfoy.

One scene here made me uncomfortable, I have to admit. There's a mass slaughter inside a church. In the comic book, I think it's a mass wedding, but here it's a Westboro-baptist-style hate-fest. A good character committing an atrocity is really necessary for the plot and dramatic arc for this to happen, and it has to be fairly intense and graphic to work. (And I saw this before the recent church shooting in Charleston—although this church is so far from that one, it probably wouldn't resonate that deeply agains that atrocity.)

So, dramatically, you have a problem: If you shoot up a nursery school, for example, the audience isn't going to like it, regardless of the context. You have to find something the audience can kinda/sorta get behind—almost to the point where it's like a George Carlin/Dennis Leary stand-up bit about "people who should be killed". But you're constrained from candy-coating it, too.

I don't have a great answer to this, dramatically, except maybe if the massacre had been in a den of plotting terrorists, i.e., people planning right at the moment to do real harm. But as far as I know, the most notorious of groups—The Westboro Baptists—have been as awful as you can be without physically causing harm to others.

As such, I felt like I was being asked to go along with the wholesale slaughter of people who have loathsome ideas, and their children. To find it just a little bit "okay".

I'm not really good at demonizing groups of people.

That aside, it was a really remarkable and memorable film, that takes a lot of the popular spy/hero tropes and has fun with them in a distinctive fashion. (The fourth out of our six-film-streak.)

The Farewell Party

An elderly tinkerer who struggles to keep his friends fighting for life finds himself building a "death machine" to facilitate euthanasia in Mita Tova, literally "Good Death" but playing here under the much cheerier title "The Farewell Party". This is one of those movies that could only be Israeli, or perhaps American, of the Harold and Maude vintage.

This is also a rare movie in that the trailer perfectly gives the tone—and sadly a great many of the best jokes, though they still work in a different context in the film.

The story concerns our hero, the tinkerer, who phones a dear friend pretending to be God, and telling her while she's got a straight ticket into heaven, they're currently all booked up, so would she please do the chemo and fight a little longer?

Cute, right? But at the same time, he's got a dear friend in the hospital in utter agony. They can't or won't give the friend the pain meds he needs, and he's begging for death. The sick man's wife is shaming our hero into killing his friend—but our tinkerer's wife is the exact opposite, loathe to, as she puts it, murder.

Well, what else can you call it?

He ends up creating a machine in the manner of Kevorkian, though still on the fence. His wife ends up having an episode that puts her in the hospital, and it's actually the sound of his friend suffering ni the neighboring room that convinces him to do it. This is really where the movie launches: Because everyone knows they did it. And before they know what's going on, they're fielding all kinds of requests for other people, some with incentives, and some with threats.

Worse still, it's apparent that our tinkerer's wife has a serious form of dementia or Alzheimer's, and she's now terrified of him. She doesn't trust him not to kill her.

It's funny. Very funny. And also tragic. Very tragic. Poignant. Heartbreaking. And funny. As in the Yiddish tradition, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." Really, nobody does this better than the Israelis, and nobody today draws rich characters so easily, even if the directors here are relative newcomers.

We've seen many of the actors before, in Gett, in The Band's Visit, in Spielberg's Munich, and many others, but they seem "new" here. There's a great sincerity and depth that plays out without really any background detail given. You just know these are old friends, they've been through a lot (as one has been at that age), they've been through it together, and that carries some clout, as The Boy likes to say.

It fits with the whole theme, really. Who are they? They're us. They're facing the dilemmas we are facing, or will face, or force our loved ones to face. This is a really fine film that raises the big questions without forgetting life is about love and laughter and friendship. (It was also third in our six film streak, with The Wrecking Crew and Fight Club preceding it.)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fight Club (1999)

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you DO NOT talk about Fight Club. Third rule of Fight Club: Someone yells stop, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight. Fifth rule: one fight at a time, fellas. Sixth rule: no shirts, no shoes. Seventh rule: Fights will go on as long as they have to.

And the eighth and final rule: If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.

The Flower and The Boy and I went to check out a revival of David Fincher's greatest film, and even though The Flower had been spoiled (she knows the twist in The Sixth Sense, too, which she's never seen), we all had a great time.

Fight Club is a fascinating film; to me the novel is of a piece with American Psycho and similar anti-consumer treatises that emerged from the amazing prosperity of the '80s and '90s. As such it does not, in a lot of ways, make much sense. For example, there's a real limit to how much damage you can do to financial records by blowing up buildings. Even in the '80s, those things were backed up, to say nothing of 1999.

And, more importantly, the "heroes" of such stories tend to be victims of consumerism. In Fight Club, the narrator constantly talks about what he's bought, but the closest the movie comes to explaining why he buys all that stuff is just that, well, he does. But conspicuous consumerism is about impressing others and The Narrator seems to have literally no friends or family or girlfriend.

Still, it's a thing. People buy stuff to buy stuff and it can make them very unhappy even while they do it. The idea that Tyler Durden puts into the Narrator's head: That he's the victim of a variety of societal traps is dopey, although preaching to Fight Club that they'd been raised to believe they'd all be rich and famous rock stars or actors or whatever probably has resonance to kids today. (It had, and has none with me.)
You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.
Fight Club is one of those movies I laugh practically non-stop through. It's wall-to-wall black comedy of a Swiftian sort, and chock full of quotable lines:
Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. 
When it hits on truth, it hits on it in a big way.
The things you own end up owning you.
And it proceeds in fashion from a profound and sensible statement like the above to "so let's blow a lot of stuff up and pee in soup" in a kind of dizzying, insane logic that just fits the whole tone of the movie well.

It also holds up on each viewing, as you see things you missed or didn't really grasp the first time. Notably, the inserted frames (a frame or 2 at maybe a dozen points) are much more conspicuous now. I'm not sure if that's because we're used to quick flashes these days, or because it's digital and not film, or both.

Interestingly, the CGI, which was always stylized and not meant to be literal (for the most part) is very conspicuous. It's not horrible or anything, but it's not far removed from the Star Wars title crawl in terms of seeming antiquated.

I've always felt that Fincher's subsequent film, The Panic Room, was so (unfairly) poorly received because it was just a straight-up thriller with none of the pretensions of Fight Club. But his '90s streak: Se7en, The Game, Fight Club and Panic Room is one of my favorite movie streaks in film history. I really don't think any of his subsequent movies are as entertaining as these, though the first two thirds of Gone Girl measure up.
On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Wrecking Crew

"The lesson to take away from this movie, kids," I said to The Flower and The Boy, "is that Rock 'n' Roll is an utter fraud."

The movie in question is The Wrecking Crew, a documentary about the wildly talented studio musicians who played on a vast number rock music's greatest hits from the '50s to the '70s. The Monkees and The Partridge Family, obviously. Sonny and Cher and Nancy Sinatra, yeah, why not. Also: The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Phil Spector, Herb Alpert and on and on.

But it wasn't just rock music: They played on everything. They weren't rock musicians, actually, they were just musicians who didn't feel it was beneath them to play rock. (And I knew guys who felt it was, and ended up in computers.) And they contributed to whatever they were playing. One of the high points of the movie, musically, is when they have bass players playing the bass line they invented for a song, and then play the song over it and you're like "Holy cow! That makes that song!"

Carol Kaye, who was one of the few women in the crew, still handles the bass with world class professionalism, does an easy demo of "Let The Sun Shine In".

When the '70s gave way to the singer-songwriter and a demand for "authenticity", the jobs dried up, but for a while, these guys worked day-and-night, day-after-day, for big, big bucks. Even at high prices, the fact they could knock out a perfect track in one take made it economical to use them—and you got a better product—than a bunch of kids struggling for a hundred takes to get something usable out.

Much fun. The kids, who know almost nothing about this enjoyed it.

On the scale:

1. Good subject. If not staggeringly important, interesting and inspiring in its way, and chock full of great stories. I mean, you could probably get enough great stories out of a couple of dozen musicians who'd worked professionally for three decades.

2. Technique. Good, simple, respectful. The editing is reasonably tight, though the whole thing is rather unfocused. If I had to guess, I'd bet there's just a ton of material here, and this is almost a highlight reel.

3. Slant. The director is Danny Tedesco, son of one of the crew, Tommy Tedesco, who managed to find a balance between work and life, if the stories are to be believed. We get different life stories from different musicians, naturally reflecting a variety of career arcs and outcomes. So, no hard-hitting journalism, and maybe a bit of hagiography, but that doesn't particularly matter here.

So, yeah, unfocused, as I mentioned, and The Kids (and a bunch of other people I talked to about it) agreed about that, but also that it was fun enough on its own for that not to be too bad a thing. Definitely worth checking out.

Time-wise, it's interesting to note that some of the interviews here are quite old: I kept saying "Oh, that guy's dead" and "that guy has Alzheimer's now" and so on. Apparently, the movie was held in limbo while Tedesco struggled...to get all the rights to the music.

Which is how screwed up copyright is right now: A documentary using tiny snippets of 30-60 year old songs can be held up for a decade.

Fun correlation: The real people here are featured prominently in the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy.

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