May 8, 2010
The rusty yarns of Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart yearn for the rustic truth that burps, curses, and purrs beneath the paved heart of a contested continent. Critics commenting on this award-winning movie appear divided between those that embrace Jeff Bridges’ and Maggie Gyllenhal’s intense execution of the story’s emotional weight and those that dice the premise of the demon inside Bad Blake as he searches for the promise of divine redemption.
Having already seen this popular interpretation of an alt-country sacred story on the big screen in Nashville, having celebrated Jeff Bridges’ earned Oscar with his fans in the mainstream media, I eagerly awaited the DVD release, hoping that the movie’s twangy pathos and primal range of messages would translate to more meaning for a second viewing in the privacy of my Cookeville apartment. For fans of actors like Bridges and Gyllenhal or of roots country musicians, for folks in recovery from addiction needing affirmation, access to Crazy Heart via its stellar soundtrack CD and the subsequent DVD makes for an awesome musical and moral maintenance plan.
Bridges breathes his onscreen brother Bad Blake, a griseled road dog who manages to turn the open byway into a whiskey-infused cul-de-sac of self inflicted misery. A trashy hotel room, cigarettes and scotch, a sloppy gig at a greasy bowling alley, passing out naked next to a stanger and fan who wears too much makeup — this is how an alcoholic guiatar poet transforms his once glamorous lifestyle into a self-made sanitorium for washed-up booze hounds. Imagine an unsung character cut from the worn leather boots of a Kristofferson or Cash forced to miss the fame his peers achieved.
Apparently, the Texas country blues career of Stephen Bruton bears some similarity to Bad Blake; Bruton collaborated with T-Bone Burnett on the soundtrack and coached Jeff Bridges. Some key details were apparently grafted from Bruton’s true tales, like the make of Blake’s car or the comic relief and olfactory grief of Bridges dumping a water bottle used as piss vessel after long drives.
After a career-rejuvenating reconnection with his younger, more successful protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) at the same time he is falling in love with a single-mom-journalist played by the always inspiring and subtly seductive Maggie Gyllenhal, Bad suddenly wants to be good. But his romantic and songwriting ambitions face a fork in the road, the same impasse that every friend of the devil in the bottle must reckon with or lose it all.
Unimpressed slaggers called this drunken-singer-gets-sober-story a cliche and moved on to other viewing pleasures, but if the so-called predictable aspects of this film’s grit resemble the lives you and your friends have survived, it might persist in permeating your psyche and iPod playlists, joining a long list of Hollywood art that fights the dark arc of the disease of addicition. The songs by Bridges, the classic country tracks, and the stunning hit single “Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham round out the rugged soundtrack LP.
Somehow, through it all, a divided America gets united by the gospel of Americana, a soul-baring movie and music of a painfully obvious narrative that nonetheless sears the slick future of those baptized by the bleeps of a digitized noise. The future becomes better when informed by the past; the truth survives; an open hearted cinema communes with its audience at the open hearth of a backyard BBQ. –Andrew William Smith, Editor
Crazy Heart was released on DVD on April 20.
April 7, 2009
by Luke Pimentel, Editor
April 7, 2009
For all the evangelical ardor surrounding Montreal superstars Arcade Fire, the band has been surprisingly reticent to release any official documentation of their inner workings or beloved live performances. Contrary to the modern-day norm of constant and thunderous media saturation, it appears the band still prefers to cultivate a sense of mystery about itself and its music.
Appropriate, then, that Miroir Noir – an arty, obtuse, highly impressionistic collage project from French-Canadian director Vincent Morriset and Parisian filmmaker Vincent Moon – should serve as the band’s first serious foray into long-form visual media.
February 15, 2008
By Andrew William Smith, Editor
Visually intoxicating and emotionally inspired, Julie Taymorâ€™s Across The Universe redefines the rock musical as she retells the story of the 1960s counterculture by reinterpreting classic songs from the Beatles catalog.
Mixing a sappy love story with an incendiary political situation and painting it all with an epic brush across a wildly-costumed, brilliantly-choreographed, and polychromatic palette, ambitious auteur Taymor has achieved the artistically impossible, constructing prophetic nostalgia and seamless narrative in the form of a feature-length music video.
Ignoring her potential detractors, Taymor treads well-traveled byways of familiar cultural motifs with a lyrical levity that ignites our passions without getting lost in the socially complicated implications of her endeavor. The lead characters bear names from Beatles songs like Jude (Jim Sturgess), Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), Max (Joe Anderson), and Sadie (Dana Fuchs). These overlapping lives light fires of historical significance to warm our jaded memories of a time period that defined a culture war that has lasted for decades since. Every scene and song provide memorable highlights, but some in particular stand out for me.
The already enormous â€œLet It Beâ€ gets recast as an emotionally-loaded gospel revival against the chilling backdrop of the parallel casualties wrought by the Detroit riots and the Vietnam war. Carol Woodsâ€™s wondrous performance haunts with its poignant beauty after repeated viewings and listenings.
An imagined super-group collaboration between Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix comes alive in the relationship between Sadie and Jo Jo (Martin Luther). When Lucy leaves her sheltered suburban reality to discover the urban grit of New York City, she gets the full immersion experience a wickedly rocking version of Sadieâ€™s band performing â€œWhy Donâ€™t We Do It in the Road.â€
The rudely claustrophobic rendering of â€œI Want You (Sheâ€™s So Heavy)â€ transforms the military induction rite of passage with riveting images and dystopian riffsâ€”sort of like the Matrix meets MC Escher. Much to Maxâ€™s disdain, when Uncle Sam puts out the call for cannon fodder, even someone who claims to be a â€œcrossdressing homosexual pacifistâ€ will doâ€”as long as he doesnâ€™t have flat feet.
Under the wonderfully fantastic tutelage of Taymorâ€™s wide angle wisdom, each song gets treated like a sacred text to be taught to an audience of acolytes aspiring to be members of the psychedelic clergy. In the cosmically delectable trifecta of â€œI Am the Walrus,â€ â€œBeing for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,â€ and â€œBecause,â€ Taymor captures the topsy-turvy and mentally curvy magic of the times.
An unlikely candidate for the day-glo guru giving out shots of electric koolaid, Bonoâ€™s brilliant Dr. Robert does creative justice to the merry pranks of Ken Keseyâ€™s kind with the spontaneous poetry of â€œWeâ€™re navigators. Weâ€™re aviators. Weâ€™re eatinâ€™ taters, masturbating alligators. Bombardiers, we got no fears. We shed no tears. Weâ€™re pushing the frontiers of transcendental perception.â€
When â€œDr. Gearyâ€ at the â€œLeague of Spiritual Deliveranceâ€ refuses to meet with Bono and his band of sisters and brothers, the scene soon switches to the surreal circus tents commandeered by Eddie Izzardâ€™s Mr. Kite. Creating a mood reminiscent of festive scenes like the Bread and Puppet Theater or Burning Man, Taymor takes us down the rabbit hole with a special effects budget and sensibility so savvy that she can recreate the â€œsixties tripâ€ without any side-effects, legal worries, or mental hangover.
But Taymor doesnâ€™t just employ her keenly kaleidoscopic directorial eye to conjure fantastic communal bliss, she also taps into the terrifying aspects of the times, from jangling with Max through the jungles of â€˜nam to watching Jude paint his protest in a stunningly apocalyptic version of â€œStrawberry Fieldsâ€ that literally must be seen to be believed.
As Lucy gets swept away by the rhetoric of an increasingly angry anti-war movement and the charismatic magnetism of one of its key organizers, she starts to lose Jude. In a charged scene that reminds us that every battle small and large is really about love, envy, loss, and unresolved emotions, Judeâ€™s heart-wrenching â€œRevolutionâ€ reminds us that the real resolutions for peace must first be made inside the human heart.
Across The Universe is a movie Iâ€™ve waited decades for. As a young child with wide eyes, I discovered the fabled genre of the rock musical in the theater and on the widescreen. With a vivid imagination, I starred on the stage of my bedroom and entertained myself with repeated listens to the soundtracks to Hair, Godspell , and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Since those lazy pre-adolescent afternoons in the 1970s, I have sought a cinematic or theatrical feat to feel so alive that I would once again be compelled to dance around my room and sing along without a care. Efforts like Tommy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Wiz, or Rent may have come close. But for my inclinations, no other rock opera has captured that original magic on stage or screen. Until now.
Of course, having Lennon and McCartney score already penned on the ears of eternity, Taymor had a particular advantage. With Across The Universe, Julie Taymor give us an amazing gift for our times, for all time.