August 8, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Headliners for the eternal Rock ‘n Roll question, “Is he still alive?” are Keith Richards and the subject of this documentary, David Crosby. The two men epitomize the ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll’ battle cry. Director A.J. Eaton and Producer Cameron Crowe team up to allow Crosby to tell his own story. It’s been 45 years since Crowe (whose story as an upstart reporter was the basis of ALMOST FAMOUS) first interviewed Crosby for Rolling Stone magazine, and this time Crosby is 75 years old and looking back on a life maybe not so well lived.

There is a mythology to the 1960’s and David Crosby WAS the 1960’s. He was a pop star who spoke his mind about politics and social issues … often to the detriment of his popularity or status within a band. The film states he has ‘been at the forefront of rock music for 5 decades”, and while it’s true he experienced tremendous success with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash, and later Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (Crosby considers those two separate bands), he has also spent an inordinate amount of time on the sidelines – fired from bands, strung out on drugs, and even serving jail time.

Most of the interviews we see are clips from the past. This includes Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Chris Hillman. Roger McGuinn appears to be the only one who agreed to go on camera for the documentary. Crosby explains this by saying most everyone he created music with “hates” him and won’t talk to him … because he was an “a**hole”. Alienating 50 years of friends and collaborators is not an easy thing to own up to, but Crosby comes across as quite reflective during his time on camera speaking with Crowe.

Floyd Crosby, David’s father, was an Oscar winning cinematographer known for TABU: A STORY OF THE SOUTH SEAS (1931) and HIGH NOON (1952). The two were not close, but Crosby says his mother showed her love quite often. It’s fascinating to follow Crosby as he narrates the journey of his life: going sailing after being kicked out The Byrds, hanging with Mama Cass, discovering and loving Joni Mitchell, doing most every possible drug, and suffering health issues that include 8 stents in his heart, a liver transplant, and life as a diabetic. It’s mesmerizing to hear Crosby tell the story of Neil Young writing “Ohio” almost immediately after the Kent State massacre. We even meet Crosby’s wife Jan and see their lovely California home, replete with dogs and horses. Perhaps the most entertaining segment is when Crosby heads back to Laurel Canyon and visits “Our House” where Crosby, Stills and Nash were born with a 40 seconds take in the kitchen.

The only bit more amazing than Crosby still being alive is that stunningly pure voice has never failed him. It’s a voice that has appeared on so many records over the years, and now in this 70’s, Crosby has experienced a musical rebirth. The film would make a nice companion to the recently released documentary ECHO IN THE CANYON, but mostly it plays not like a story of redemption, but rather a farewell and apology letter. It’s quite possible that’s exactly the note Crosby wanted to hit.

watch the trailer:

ALOHA (2015)

May 30, 2015

aloha Greetings again from the darkness. Since I can usually find something of interest, it’s rare that I feel cheated after watching a movie. Of course, feeling disappointed happens more often, but feeling cheated is something altogether different and, unfortunately writer/director Cameron Crowe’s latest is the perfect reminder of that difference.

Three outstanding lead actors (Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams), a terrific and deep supporting cast, and a beautiful filming location of Hawaii mean that the fault lies with Mr. Crowe’s script and direction. The film plays like the broad strokes of a screenplay idea, rather than a finished product. It’s as if we are watching filmed rehearsals as a group of writers scramble to connect the story dots … still trying to determine if this is a drama or comedy.

It seems the film was cast with a full-out comedy in mind, but then somewhere along the line, a narrative shift occurred with the hope of making a statement on the privatization of the military and space exploration. There is also an undercurrent of the mistreatment of native Hawaiians, as we are teased with cultural myths, legends and the distrust of the military. Trying to balance these topics with a more traditional romantic-comedy-three-way involving the main characters, results in a disjointed viewing experience that provides only a few chuckles, and a half-baked story of redemption.

The gradual connection of Cooper and Stone (cast as a Navy Fighter Pilot) offers some initial verbal sparring that had potential for comedy gold, but inevitably spun off down a bunny trail of Hawaiian lore or the magic found in the sky. The re-connection of Cooper’s and McAdams’ characters seemed to have continuity holes that might have been left on the editing room floor.  John Krasinski plays McAdams’ husband, and his non-verbal exchanges are the highlight of the film, though the later subtitled version seems lifted from that drawing board straight comedy mentioned earlier.

Bill Murray is cast as the duplicitous billionaire at the core of Cooper’s mission and chance at redemption, though mostly he just acts like Bill Murray with little explanation for his motives. Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin and Bill Camp have their moments, but much more should have been devoted to McAdams’ kids played by Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent) and Danelle Rose Russell.

Cameron Crowe seems to have a driving need to examine interpersonal relationships and what causes some to work, while others falter. His film classics Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous are impressive, but also many years in the past. The last fifteen years have produced Crowe projects that teeter between optimism and outright sap. On the bright side, he always has a knack for music, and on that front, he comes through again … “Factory Girl” is blended with traditional Hawaiian songs and even Dylan and The Who. It’s because of this, that you won’t know for sure if your toe-tapping is due to the music or that gut feeling of being cheated.

watch the trailer:



December 12, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Cameron Crowe has finally emerged from his cocoon – 7 years after the abysmal Elizabethtown. Yes, he has had a couple of projects in that time, notably the Pearl Jam documentary, but he has avoided anything related to his dramatic film roots of which produced Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. This time he delivers a feel good, family appropriate, sentimental crowd-pleaser that should play very well to the holiday crowd.

Please know I do not use “sentimental” as a derogatory term. Sure there are moments where the actions and dialogue seem contrived and manipulative, but some of the best crowd-pleasers throughout Hollywood history have these same traits. This film is based on a true story and uses Benjamin Mee‘s autobiographical book as the basic source material. The real Mee family and their zoo, are stationed in England, not southern California as Crowe presents them. What I can tell you is that this version of the Mee family and the zoo staff is interesting and entertaining, even if you just have to let go and allow yourself to be guided through.

 Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee and the story picks up after his wife dies. He soon quits his job and moves his two kids to the country so they can work through their grief and start fresh. His teenage son Dylan is played with blazing anger by the talented Colin Ford. The precocious 7 year old daughter is played by scene-stealer Maggie Elizabeth Jones. This family experiences the realities of struggling with their pain and difficulties in communicating.

 As for the zoo, it is in major disrepair and in danger of closing if it doesn’t pass its pending inspection. Benjamin works with the rag-tag staff, including head zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), to bring the facility up to code and nurse the sick animals back to health. As the zoo is rehabbed, so are the individuals. No surprise there.

The main conflict in the story comes from the hard-headedness of Benjamin and Dylan, as they ignore their inability to communicate and connect as father and son. A couple of their scenes together are the best in the film for acting and realistic dialogue. At the same time, Kelly acts as a quasi-love interest for Benjamin, while Lily (Elle Fanning) uses puppy love to help Dylan through his misery. That sub-plot is where Crowe missed a real chance. Ms. Fanning is one of the top young actresses working today and her contributions here are limited to that luminescent smile.

 The wild cast of supporting actors includes wise-cracking Thomas Haden Church as Benjamin’s brother, JB Smoove as the Realtor, Peter Riegert as Mee’s editor, Patrick Fugit (from Almost Famous) as the guy with a monkey on his shoulder, Angus Macfadyen as the colorful zoo maintenance man, and John Michael Higgins as the snooty zoo inspector who knowingly holds their future in his smarmy hand.

As always, Crowe uses music better than most any other director. This includes his use of score and soundtrack to compliment a scene or drive the setting and mood. What really makes this film work is Matt Damon. His character is the heart of the film and the soul of the family. His performance is strong enough to prevent the film from lapsing into pure sap and makes us care for him, his family and this zoo. Don’t expect some cutting edge, independent sulk fest. Just accept the movie for what it is … a feel good story delivered for the holidays.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can enjoy a sentimental family journey based on a true story – especially if some pretty cool animals are included!

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you subscribe to the “conflict in every scene” theory of story-telling.

watch the trailer: