Thursday, January 9, 2014

Opening Credits - Again

I started this film blog seven years ago and made exactly three posts during that time period. That's 0.42 posts per year, and sadly all three came within the first month of starting REEL LIFE.

Since then my film viewing habits have changed dramatically, with the advent of Netflix. Sure I can still be found in the dark cinemas, but while I used to peruse video stores with my head cranked sideways reading titles on spines, I now crank my head sideway reading titles as they scroll by on Netflix.

I'm restarting this blog to help readers sift through the streaming crud and get to some of the quality. This won't be exclusive to Netflix; I will also be discussing what's in the theatres and why most mainstream films critics are out to lunch. I know that sounds arrogant, but I find myself disagreeing so often these days that I need a space to vent, if to no one but myself.

So let's get straight into it. Here are two Netflix-available titles that I've watched in recent days:

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

I have endless capacity for music documentaries. I've watched time-wasting garbage like Electric Daisy Carnival Experience to Oscar-winners such as Searching for Sugar Man.

Big Star fits nicely into the popular music doc category of "band-who-never-made-it-but-should-have-and-is-now-being-validated-of-their-greatness." I'm not sure if Anvil started this trend but we can certainly thank them to some degree. Unlike Anvil, Big Star made listenable music in their prime and their influence can be heard all over today's landscape.

Yet Big Star was ignored when they released the sublime "No. 1 Record," and almost as good follow up Radio City. Here's one of my favourite songs from them:

At 113 minutes, the film struggles mostly because the band has so little footage. There are no live performances (a few photo stills), video interviews or music videos. The directors - Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori - do the best they can with some promo photos and a radio interview but they could have shaved off 20 minutes, easy.

The film compensates by delving into the history of the Memphis music scene - Big Star's hometown - and some of its eclectic and colourful personalities during the 70s and 80s. Their voices are in this film but unfortunately Big Star's magnetic leader, Alex Chilton, isn't. Chilton died in 2010 and there's simply, I'll assume, no video out there of him talking about his music or anything else for that matter. Same goes with his Big Star songwriting partner Chris Bell, who died at 27 in 1978.

So what we get is a lot of talking head Big Star fans both unknown and known (REM's Mike Mills leads the latter category) and an unfortunate amount of footage of the band. You can't blame the directors for the lack of footage, but they are the ones trying to make a compelling documentary and could have edited it down to a less bloated length. I don't mind hearing from a few gushing critics, but if you keep going back to them repeatedly it dilutes the impact. And yes, perennial music doc star - Rolling Stone's David Fricke - makes an appearance near the end.

In the end you have a good movie about a great band who had some rough luck. But I would say this is too daunting an introduction to Big Star. Nothing is more of a turnoff to a band than listening to people tell you how great they are for nearly two hours.


I thought there was only one movie called "Heat" out there and that was Michael Mann's sorta-classic starring Al Pacino. That movie contains some of Pacino's most over-the-top cinematic moments, including this scene. Burt Reynolds' Heat is more low-key, but I would argue it's just as moody and dark.

Reynolds plays the fantastically-named Nick Escalante, a gambling addict and soldier of fortune who prowls through Vegas dreaming of one day cashing in his chips and moving to Venice. Like Michael Douglas' Jack T. Colton character in "Romancing the Stone," he often gazes upon a framed photo of a sail boat that will carry him away to a better life.

Escalante runs afoul of a local sleazebag gangster after helping his ex-girlfriend exact revenge on a wormy pervert named Danny DeMarco. As the mobsters turn on the "heat", Nick agrees to help a wimpy millionaire build some confidence by being his bodyguard and teaching him to man-up and take a punch. The two plot-lines collide during an action-packed end sequence where Nick hunts down DeMarco at his velvet-lined, high-roller suite.

It has recently been announced that this "Heat" will be remade starring Jason Statham in the role of Escalante. That's not exactly a casting stretch for Statham, who has made his career playing the reluctant tough guy. But before that comes out I would recommend seeing this original first. Reynolds does some fine acting in this film and he exudes a fatigue with the life he can't seem to escape.

There's a particularly memorable scene where Reynolds, after a winning streak in which he earns enough dough to make his Venice dream a reality, goes back to the blackjack tables knowing full well he will lose it all. His eyes say it all as he asks the dealer for another card. He knows his fate, but can do nothing to stop himself.

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