STILLWATER (2021)

July 29, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s understandable if you are taken in by a trailer that hints at a movie featuring an unknown dad going non-stop in cold pursuit of justice for his daughter (those numerous Liam Neeson references were for my own pleasure). In fact, this father has his own particular set of skills: he’s a master at carpentry and electrical, he speaks the Oklahoma version of English, and he owns two guns (neither of which he has with him). And yes, this film is billed as a crime thriller, but you should know, we see very little crime, and the thrills are mostly non-existent. Despite all that, I connected with the story, not as a thriller, but rather as a character study of a flawed man trying to do the right thing by his daughter and find redemption for himself.

Oscar winner Matt Damon plays Bill Baker, a quiet out of work oil worker whom we first see on a clean-up crew after a disastrous tornado. Not long after, he’s on an international flight to Marseille to visit his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin). She’s been incarcerated for five years after being found guilty of stabbing her French-Arab lover, Lina, to death. In a highly publicized trial, Allison held fast to her claim of innocence, and still does. Her father visits regularly, delivering supplies and clean laundry. Although they hug on the visits, a definite chasm exists. We later learn that Bill previously struggled with drugs and alcohol and never received votes for Father of the Year. Allison asks her father to deliver a sealed letter to her attorney claiming there is new evidence in her case – she heard a guy named Akim had bragged at a party about committing Lina’s murder.

You likely noticed the similarities to the 2007 Amanda Knox case. The differences being that was Italy, this is France; and it was Amanda’s roommate, not lover. In this movie, the media fascination is derived from the ‘rich’ entitled American white girl brutally murdering her minority working class lesbian lover (a textbook Hollywood rendering). Allison growing up poor in Oklahoma mattered little to the media.

Damon plays Bill as a stoic, Heartland of America man who’ll do anything for “his little girl”. But he’s no Jason Bourne. He’s the proverbial fish-out-of-water on this mission. He doesn’t speak a bit of French, and depends on the kindness of local actress Virginie (Camille Cottin, ALLIED, 2016) to be his interpreter and cultural guide in a world he doesn’t comprehend. Bill quickly bonds with Virginie’s precocious daughter Maya (a sterling film debut by Lilou Siauvaud), and soon a platonic family unit has formed. Bill’s frequent prayers and odd American manners are the perfect cultural clash with Virginie’s artsy French ways. Of course, this ultimately leads to a shift in the platonic nature of their relationship.

The film is directed by Tom McCarthy, an Oscar winner for SPOTLIGHT (2015). I highly recommend two of his other films, the excellent THE VISITOR (2007), and his sinfully under-seen directorial debut THE STATION AGENT (2003). McCarthy co-wrote this script with Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, and Noe Debre, which explains why the French details are so spot on. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi delivers brilliant camera work to go with the story’s methodical pacing, and Mychael Danna’s music adds intensity and depth to situations both quiet and fraught with emotion. Damon does some of his best work here as a man burdened with his own past and slowly becoming aware of possible personal and family life redemption. Ms. Breslin burst on the scene in 2006 with LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and she has transitioned well to adult roles … though this role is somewhat abbreviated, she still does nice work in her scene with Maya and Virginie.

Bill and Virginie and Maya have some terrific segments together, including a dance to Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night”. I’m guessing the rousing applause the film and actors received at Cannes was due partly to its French setting, and also to the depth of Bill’s character (and Damon’s performance). There are elements that seem far-fetched and maybe even overly complex, but viewed as the story of one man, it delivers some thought-provoking topics to the big screen. And yes, “life is brutal”.

Opens in Theaters Friday, July 30

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ENEMIES OF THE STATE (2021, doc)

July 29, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. True Crime documentaries have flooded the market, yet the best ones are still enthralling. Toss in a wicked conspiracy theory, a family with a military background and strong religious beliefs, and accusations against the federal government, well then, you’ve now attained a whole new level of twisting and turning intrigue. Documentarian Sonia Kennebeck opens her film with the Oscar Wilde quote: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”. By the end, neither ‘simple’ nor ‘pure’ will be words you use to describe the saga of Matt DeHart.

You may not know his name, but his story is fascinating and complex. Were it a fictionalized project, it would likely be less interesting. A computer whiz at an early age, Matt DeHart’s journey takes us from Indiana to Mexico to Washington DC to Canada, and to Tennessee and rural Kentucky. Since the FBI raided his home in 2010, Matt has been labeled: a hacker for Anonymous, a WikiLeaks contributor, an asylum seeker, a child pornographer, a whistleblower, and a hacktivist.

Kennebeck’s film plays like an investigative report, and we are there to assemble the puzzle pieces. The problem is that the pieces don’t actually fit. This is a duel between one young man (with the support of his parents, whose own story becomes more bizarre as time passes) and the US Government. When accused and charged with child pornography, DeHart fires back calling this a ruse by the Government, claiming he has proof documenting the CIA’s plot and involvement with the 2001 Anthrax attacks.

Matt’s parents, Paul and Leann, play a prominent role in his life and in the film. They are exceedingly protective of him and seem to carry none of the doubt that most everyone else involved in this does. Without ruining the chase for you, Matt administered a secret server for WikiLeaks and claims to have contacts with Anonymous and the Dark web. Kennebeck utilizes reenactments, archival footage, photographs, audio recordings, and interviews to take us through the research. Those interviewed include Matt’s parents, his immigration and defense attorneys, college professor Gabriella Coleman (an expert on Anonymous), and journalist Adrian Humphreys who covered Matt’s story for “The National Post” (the stories are available online).

Matt seeking asylum at the Russian Embassy and in Canada, adds to the complexity, even if one is leaning towards believing his claims of being targeted, and later tortured, by the government. The challenge here is that we never see the evidence – either of the child pornography or Matt’s documents exposing the CIA. Instead, we get the investigative research done on the case. Was he rightfully targeted by the government? Was he a spy? Did/does he have proof against the government? Was he just paranoid? Kennebeck’s project works best as an examination of human nature and exploration of the complexities of truth. Given what we’ve been through in recent years with U.S. politics, it’s easy to see how repeated untruths will sometimes come to be accepted as truth. Keep an open mind while watching this lunacy unfold, although it may prove difficult to come to a decision.

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TWIST (2021)

July 29, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. This is billed as “a modern take on the classic tale of Oliver Twist”. The problem with that is this feels neither modern, nor in line with the renowned Charles Dickins novel. Mostly it feels like a failed attempt at copying Guy Ritchie’s SNATCH, or the KINGSMAN movies, or even the NOW YOU SEE ME movies. Directed by Martin Owen with a script by John Wrathall, Sally Collett and six other credited contributing writers (in addition to the inspiration from Dickens), this film simply lacks the entertainment value necessary for any type of positive recommendation. So I won’t be writing much here, only addressing what we see on screen.

Raff Law (Jude Law’s son) nabbed his first starring role as Twist, a street artist living on his own. One day he stumbles into Dodge (Rita Ora), Batesy (Franz Drameh), and Red (Sophie Simnett) who introduce him to Fagin (two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine), who presides over this group of criminal misfits. The offer of free clothes, decent housing, a team to work with, and a possible romance, is enough to entice Twist out of his rooftop tent.

This is really a simple art heist movie with multiple scenes of parkour included in place of real danger or creative thrills. David Walliams plays the target, and as a bonus, ripping him off would settle an old score for Fagin, and the over-the-top psychopath Sikes (Lena Headey). Somehow out of step in a movie with no real step is a recurring gag featuring a traffic cop played by Leigh Warden. It’s unclear if this was held over from an early slapstick version of the film, or if it was intended to portray Twist as an outlaw.

Noel Clark maintains his dignity as Detective Brownlow, and Ms. Headey attempts to liven things up, but mostly the characters are forgettable due to an all too simple story and a lack of development. The annoying music doesn’t help, and neither does the lack of any insightful social commentary (a Dickens specialty). It seems obvious the filmmakers were trying to create something edgy and modern, and go so far as to open with a jab at Carol Reed’s 1968 musical OLIVER!, by having narrator Twist state there will be ‘No singing. No dancing. And no happy ending.’ If a filmmaker risks re-making or re-imagining a classic story, they must be ready for the comparisons. This one falls well short of that 1968 version, as well as David Lean’s 1948 OLIVER TWIST, with Alec Guinness as Fagin.

In theaters and On Demand starting July 30, 2021

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THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

July 28, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. If you are at all inclined to see this movie, then I would encourage you to do so … and brace yourself for a surreal and mystical treat unlike any other medieval tale previously adapted for the big screen. Writer-director David Lowery re-teams with A24, the studio that also distributed his critically-acclaimed 2017 film, A GHOST STORY, to deliver a trip for your senses based on the tale of Sir Gawain – a tale that’s been told in various and often contradictory ways over many years.

Dev Patel (LION, 2016) stars as Gawain, the nephew of an ailing King Arthur (Sean Harris, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT, 2018) and Guinevere (Kate Dickie, THE WITCH, 2015). When not imbibing with his friends, shaggy Gawain spends his time in the throes of intimacy with his paramour, Essel (Oscar winner Alicia Vikander sporting a pixie do). Young Gawain feels unworthy when he’s amongst the knights and dreams of becoming an important man, so that he too may regale the King with his tales of adventure.

Gawain’s mother (Sarita Choudhury), in an attempt to facilitate her son’s dreams, uses her witchcraft to conjure up his first opportunity for greatness … and the film’s first visually stunning moment. We are mesmerized as The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson, THE WITCH, 2015) makes his entrance riding a great steed into the room where the Knights are gathered at their Round Table. The Green Knight, best described as a giant Groot (from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), puts forth a challenge that only Gawain is willing to take up. The scene is stunning and memorable, and allows Gawain one year of celebrity before the second part of the challenge must be faced.

It’s at this point where Gawain sets off on his journey … one that can be likened to Homer’s “The Odyssey”, in that it’s filled with surprises and obstacles that defy logic and explanation. The surprises include: Barry Keoghan (DUNKIRK, 2017) as a garrulous, yet deceitful forest scavenger; the ghost of St Winifred (Erin Kellyman) requesting help locating her skull in the swamp; scantily-clad (CGI) bald-headed giants slowly roaming the forest; and a Lord (Joel Edgerton) and his mistress who offer shelter and advice that may or may not be helpful. Also on his journey to meet back up with The Green Knight, Gawain is accompanied by a red fox that holds his own surprises.

Director Lowery’s film is a surreal, hypnotic medieval becoming-a-man tale that is both epic and intimate. There is much to unwrap here, including the witches who clearly establish women’s control of men, and the idea that some may view themselves as destined for greatness, but blink when the moment of truth arrives. We do get a glimpse of Excalibur, and Lowery’s frequent collaborator Daniel Hart’s excellent score expertly blends with the infusion of metal music. The film requires the heightened use of your senses, and the fascinating work of cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo keeps us zoned in on each character and every scene.

In theaters Friday, July 30, 2021

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OLD (2021)

July 23, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and UNBREAKABLE (2000) created a movie bond with filmmaker M Night Shyamalan that will always exist. In other words, I continue to go into each of his projects with hopeful expectations of another classic. Of course, some have been pretty good (SPLIT, 2016), while others are barely watchable (THE LAST AIRBENDER, 2010). His latest lands somewhere in the middle, but does feature a stunning beach setting (Dominican Republic) – one whose tropical beauty hides a sinister reality.

The film’s synopsis is captured in the trailer: tourists experience a mystifying and terrifying phenomenon while on a day trip to a gorgeous secluded beach. The director adapted the film from the 2010 graphic novel “Sandcastle”, written by Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters. Shyamalan specializes in one thing: big and creative ideas. He is a risk-taking filmmaker, but one not always focused on execution, coherence, or details. Especially awkward here is the dialogue. None of these characters talk like real people. Lending to the awkwardness is the attention given to each character’s name and occupation … except for the kids, where age is the significant data.

Due to the nature of the story (and the effects of the beach), the cast is significantly larger than the number of characters. We ride along with one family as they first approach the luxury resort. Insurance actuary Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his wife, museum curator Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are vacationing with their 11 year old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and 6 year old son Trent (Nolan River). The couple clearly have a strained relationship and appear headed for a break-up. Encouraged by the resort manager to spend the day at a secret remote beach, they are joined by Charles (Rufus Sewell), a surgeon, his calcium-deficient trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their young daughter Kara, and the doctor’s elderly mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant). Another couple is there as well, nurse Jarin (Ken Leung) and his wife Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a psychologist. Already at the beach when they arrive is rap star Mid-sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), replete with bloody nose and the corpse of the woman who accompanied him.

It’s best not to go into specifics about the progression of things for these folks on the beach, but it can be noted that they frantically try to find a way back to the resort. When all attempts prove unsuccessful, that ridiculous dialogue fills in many of the gaps for us, though you should know the science doesn’t hold up … think of it as fantasy instead. As their day at the beach moves forward, other actors take over: Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie are teenage Trent and Maddox, Eliza Scanlen is Kara, and later, Emun Elliott and Embeth Davidtz become Trent and Maddox. It becomes frustrating for viewers as the professions are emphasized: Guy spouts statistics at every turn, Prisca discloses she’s not a pathologist, and Patricia attempts to get everyone to bring their feelings to group. Ugh.

Despite the many missteps and the overall mess of characterizations, Shyamalan (who also appears as the driver who drops them at the beach) does serve up a creative idea – one that will likely get viewers questioning their own mortality and how best to spend time. Mental illness is addressed in a crude manner with Rufus Sewell (a fine actor) bearing the brunt of a poor script, while physical afflictions and the effects of age come off a bit better. The strange looking woman serving up custom cocktails at the resort is Francesca Eastwood (Clint’s daughter), and Shyamalan’s patented plot twist ending does make sense and even has a contemporary feel to it.

Opening in theaters on July 23, 2021

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JOE BELL (2021)

July 22, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Given his track record, Mark Wahlberg is not the guy that first comes to mind for a message movie about tolerance and inclusion. On the other hand, he’s perfectly cast as a macho Oregon dad struggling with his own prejudices when his son comes out as gay. Director Marcus Green (MONSTERS AND MEN, 2018) is working with a script co-written by Diana Ossana and the late, great Larry McMurtry, and though the film touches on some topics of conflict, it does so in a manner that plays comfortably for mass audiences. Mr. McMurtry passed away earlier this year, and the two co-writers shared an Oscar for their screenplay of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2015).

Wahlberg plays Joe Bell, and the film is based on the true story of Bell’s decision to walk across America – from Oregon to New York City in honor of his son Jadin (played well by Reid Miller). Oregon was home, but the Big Apple was where Jadin dreamed of living – a place more accepting of him. We witness some of the relentless bullying and abuse Jadin endured at school and the Principal’s appalling reaction, and we also see his home life: a dad who tries to avoid the issue and a loving mother (Connie Britton) who is not a woman of action.

While on his tribute walk, Joe stops at schools and community centers to tell the story of Jadin and express the importance of kindness and tolerance. Of course, this is also a time for some personal emotional cleansing for Joe … an act of atonement, if you will. There is a twisty plot device that is evidently supposed to be a surprise, but there was no need to make it such – it would have still worked just fine. One of the best sequences occurs when Joe crosses paths with a small town Sheriff played by Gary Sinise. It’s a cathartic few minutes that allows a fine actor (Sinise) to play the role of a father unloading the burden of guilt.

The past few years have inspired many of us to face our personal prejudices and perspectives, and this message movie reminds us that homophobia still exists and often overpowers the kindness of others. Jadin’s essay describing being “surrounded by people that hate you” probably hits home for far too many.

Opening in theaters on July 23, 2021

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WOODSTOCK 99: PEACE, LOVE, AND RAGE (2021, doc)

July 22, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Character is revealed in the most unexpected places, and often at a time when one has a bit more freedom than usual. Like the mosh pit at a music festival. You may wonder why I’m disgusted and saddened at what stuck with me after this documentary. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the music. Instead the takeaway from Woodstock 99 is that far too many young men easily succumbed to aggressive and animalistic behavior, and worse, seized the opportunity to abuse women who were simply trying to have a good time. Of course, this was 22 years ago. Maybe we feel better about young men today.

Garret Price, the film’s director, begins by admitting Woodstock 99 played like a horror film, so we brace ourselves for what’s to follow. If you’ve seen Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 documentary about the original Woodstock festival, then you know it’s a blend of some of the best live music of the era and a peek at the ‘peace and love’ counter-culture so prevalent in 1969. To really grasp this version of the 30th anniversary of that first festival, you should know that promoters John Scher and Michael Lang were coming off a very successful and smooth 25th anniversary Woodstock festival in 1994 (Lang was also behind the 1969 festival). 1999 was also the year of the Columbine shooting, we were on the brink of Y2K, and cell phones were quite scarce. The promoters thought was this would be the “last hurrah” for baby boomers. Instead, the festival is referred to as “the day the nineties died.”

The miscalculation by the promoters was in demographics. The transformation of MTV had skewed to younger viewers, and the “Girls Gone Wild” mentality seemed to feed the fantasy of every young male. “New Rock” featuring bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit played up misogyny, homophobia, and aggression. This was the antithesis of where society is headed today. On top of all that, the sweltering heat and overpriced fluids affected behavior, and a water shortage combined with mud pits that were actually raw sewage turned the festival into a nightmare. And then things got worse.

The 1969 music corresponded to that festival’s mission, but thirty years later, Kid Rock in a mink coat and Fred Durst inciting idiocy created a much different environment. Moby is interviewed throughout this documentary offering insight into the festival and how things went wrong. The lineup included only three female acts: Alanis Morissette, Jewell, and Sheryl Crowe, and they were scheduled one per day for the three day festival, meaning many of the other acts seemed to spur the aggression in the massive crowd of 400,000.

With nostalgia non-existent, commercialism booming, and what Jewell terms “fake rage” the calling of the day, rioting, looting, fires, and sexual assaults became the festival’s legacy. Price’s film (produced by former sportswriter Bill Simmons) allows us to watch how quickly things go sideways, and any thoughts of peace and unity disappear. It’s quite a snapshot in time of a generation and culture that was spinning out of control.

Streaming on HBO Max beginning July 23, 2021

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SETTLERS (2021)

July 22, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. With billionaires building their own rockets and blasting off into space, a film about the colonization of Mars doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it did in TOTAL RECALL (1990), or even THE MARTIAN (2015). In his first feature film, writer-director Wyatt Rockefeller minimizes the science-fiction aspects and focuses more on human nature.

A family of three is making their way day-to-day in a compound. Father Reza (Jonny Lee Miller, “Elementary”), mother Ilsa (Sofia Boutella, THE MUMMY, 2017), and daughter Remy (an excellent Brooklyn Prince, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, 2017) have their own greenhouse to grow food, and even (somehow) raise their own pig. We learn they are living in some type of bubble which allows them to breathe without masks, and they have a water supply, though that’s one of countless things that are never explained.

One morning the family awakens to find “LEAVE” scrawled across their kitchen window. It turns out Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova, “Ray Donovan”), has returned to reclaim what he says was his family’s home. A battle ensues, and Jerry invites Ilsa and Remy to stay – as long as they don’t bother (or attack) him. Everyone seems to have weapons, though again, we never learn “what’s out there” as a threat.

Remy befriends a droid that resembles WALL-E. She names it Steve. Steve mostly lurks until one crucial scene which seems to come out of nowhere. This is after the ‘last man and last woman’ scenario is introduced with Nell Tiger Free (“Servant”) playing older Remy. Director Rockefeller filmed in South Africa which proves to be an effective stand-in for the surface of Mars, but just leaves too many questions unanswered for this viewer. The human nature aspect is well-handled. We hear Reza tell Remy, “We left Earth because we wanted more.” And later, “Someday it will be just like Earth”, the latter statement seemingly contradicting the first. However, the actions and attitudes of people on Mars seem to be all too similar to Earth’s inhabitants – and that’s a shame.

Opening in Theaters and On Demand on July 23, 2021

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McCARTNEY 3,2,1 (2021, doc)

July 15, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Remember when … in 1993 … Chris Farley interviewed Paul McCartney on “Saturday Night Live”? That was awesome. Mr. Farley passed away four years later, and Sir Paul McCartney is now 79 years old and truly a living music legend. This Hulu original consists of six 30 minute episodes directed by Zachary Heinzerling, who was Oscar nominated for his 2013 documentary CUTIE AND THE BOXER. Filmed in black and white from inside a recording studio, McCartney and famed hip-hop music producer Rick Rubin spend three hours talking music, history, and influence.

Many of the stories McCartney tells here are the same he’s told numerous times over the years, however, he infuses each episode with some new tale or, even better, a peek behind the music he’s created over the last 60 years. Of course, there is next to nothing about his private life which he has expertly protected for so long, but this environment is about one topic. A sound studio with a music producer talking music with a musician should only be about the music, and McCartney and Rubin fascinate us by deconstructing some of the most famous and popular songs ever written.

The stories in the episodes meander a bit, rather than go in chronological order, and each contains some color clips that correspond to McCartney’s memory of the moment. Episode 1, “These Things Bring You Together” finds Paul recalling how Edith Piaf not only influenced his songwriting, but also his “French” phase (although Jane Asher is not mentioned). It’s really mesmerizing to hear Paul discuss the “intercontinental rivalry” with the Beach Boys and how the Pet Sounds album motivated him towards “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” (sprinkled with a humorous salt and pepper story). An incredible clip of Jimi Hendrix performing “Sgt Pepper”, and Paul incessantly chomps on his chewing gum as he refers to “George’s friend”, who just happens to be Eric Clapton.

Episode 2, “The Notes That Like Each Other”, has Paul discussing how Bach influenced his songwriting, and we get insight into “Eleanor Rigby” (and the Octet), “Penny Lane” (with Dave Mason’s piccolo trumpet), “Band on the Run”, “Blackbird”, and the trip to Lagos. It’s in this segment where Paul first acknowledges the importance of George Martin as producer, performer, and arranger. Episode 3, “The People We Loved Were Loving Us”, opens with “Back in the USSR”, and the Beatles first number one hit in the U.S.: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. Paul then reiterates the importance of seeing Roy Orbison, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan perform, and how every musician is influenced by others. He re-tells the too-familiar “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” story, and recalls the band’s trip to India.

Episode 4, “Like Professors in a Laboratory”, is a bit of a hodgepodge, but may include the most new details of any. Rubin and McCartney discuss the process for pushing the treble on George’s guitar for “Nowhere Man”, the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night”, and the band’s fascination with having Robert Moog and his new invention at Abbey Road. We also hear “the Ringo moment”, and Paul talks about penning his James Bond theme, “Live and Let Die”, and the segment ends with “You Know My Name”. Episode 5, “Couldn’t You Play it Straighter?”, and Episode 6, “The Long and Winding Road” find Paul and Rubin digging deep into creating some of the unique sounds within the songs – the bass line in “Something”; George telling Paul, “you play it” in regards to the guitar solo on “Tax Man”; John’s impact and the famous bass line on “Come Together”; and George Martin’s string quartet for “Yesterday”. Episode 5 closes with “Helter Skelter”, while Episode 6 ends, of course, with “The End”.

Director Heinzerling has the camera track set up as if to film Rubin and McCartney performing in the round – with a couple of exceptions when Paul picks up a guitar or plops down at the piano to make his point musically. Rubin plays the roles of fan boy, music professional, and interviewer, and he does a nice job getting Paul to go a bit deeper than he typically would. As the two isolate fragments of songs, it’s fun to see the joy on Paul’s face as he recalls the “luck” (his word) involved with some of the band’s quick work in the studio. McCartney does manage to give John, George, and Ringo brief moments of tribute, but make no mistake, this is Paul’s show. For music lovers, this is an enjoyable 3 hours, and whether by design or not, it certainly ups the already high anticipation for Peter Jackson’s upcoming, THE BEATLES: GET BACK for Disney+ later this year.

Premieres on Hulu on July 16, 2021

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ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN (2021, doc)

July 15, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. As the film begins, we understand there will be no happy ending. Anthony Bourdain committed suicide by hanging in 2018 at the age of 61. As it was reported, everyone was shocked. Oscar winning documentarian Morgan Neville (TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM, 2013) interviews those who knew him best, and by the end of the film, we are left wondering why these folks were shocked at how his demise.

Bourdain … called Tony by those who knew him … spent most of the last 20 years of his life with a camera focused on him, so director Neville allows Bourdain to tell much of his own story. “I got very lucky” is how he explains turning a dishwasher job into the position of Chef at Brasserie Les Halles on Park Avenue in New York, and then evolving into an author, talk show guest, and host of TV travel and culinary shows.

Perhaps you read Bourdain’s first book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly”, or maybe you know him from one of his four TV shows where he traveled around the globe eating strange food and exploring unusual cultures. Then again, to some, he’ll always be known as the guy who was filmed eating a live cobra heart. All of those bits are discussed here, but the real interesting segments occur as others talk about the man they knew/loved/worked with.

Bourdain’s second wife Ottavio, his brother, his friends, his agent, and his production crew are all interviewed here and are surprisingly forthcoming in their recollections and insight into Tony. We even see clips of Bourdain with his daughter, though she is not interviewed. The descriptions add up to a complicated guy. A natural storyteller who was a control freak and hard on those he worked with. Yet he was also charming, immensely intelligent and articulate, and eager to make satisfying TV. He also comes across a bit lost as a person most of the time, never more than when he’s filmed asking Iggy Pop, “What thrills you?” There is even a segment with Tony in a session with his therapist.

The film, and Bourdain himself, don’t shy away from his addictive nature. He admits to a drug problem when he was younger, and for the rest of his life he jumped from one non-drug related addiction to another. His personal life seemed to take a turn when he fell for Italian actress Asia Argento and he became an advocate for the #MeToo movement. His tragic end is discussed, and maybe those closest to him were simply too close to see what seems obvious to us now. Director Neville uses no shortage of archival footage and photos, but it’s the personal interviews that strike the emotional chord here. Two films, APOCALYPSE NOW and VIOLENT CITY apparently had a dramatic impact on Bourdain, and though the end is tragic, his legacy as an adventurous storyteller lives on.

In theaters on July 16, 2021

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