Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Frances Ha" Review

About 7 minutes into co-writer/director Noah Baumbach's (The Squid and the Whale; co-writer of a couple Wes Anderson flicks) Frances Ha, I turned to my girlfriend and said, "This is like the pilot for the new HBO series, Girl," referencing the ridiculous Lena Dunham's oddly watchable series Girls, which is about a quartet of self-absorbed millennial ninnies living in Brooklyn. Unlike that show's multiple story lines, Frances Ha (the name is explained in the final shot of the movie) follows co-writer Greta Gerwig's titular character, a 27-year-old apprentice dancer, as she meanders through life after her bestie decides to move in with her boyfriend, leaving Frances struggling to make ends meet.

With addresses flashed onscreen as title cards, she bounces from place to place, having arch discount Woody Allen-esque conversations about nothing, managing to offend many people and basically being an unrealistic twit lacking self-knowledge until the end when she suddenly seems to grow up a bit, though after 80 minutes of self-defeating randomness - she takes a weekend trip to Paris on a credit card she got in the mail and does nothing much but accumulate debt - for her to suddenly clue up felt like a reel of transition got cut.

Shot in Manhattan-wannabe black & white, it's not that Frances Ha is a terrible film as much as a loose sequence of vignettes about a not-particularly-compelling protagonist as she copes with impulse control lack. It's unavoidable to compare to Girls because as lame as the the girls are, Dunham somehow manages to make some cutting observations about her characters - especially hers, who is the most reprehensible of them all - though I'm not sure if that's intentional or if she somehow thinks she's writing them as "deep" and it comes off as "look how vacuous they are." I never really cared about Frances' fate because she didn't seem to have the self-knowledge to worry either. Maybe that was the point, but why should anyone spend time with aimless people for entertainment. This smacks of NYC self-importance. No one cares west of the Hudson, folks.

Miscellaneous observations: The iconic pose on the poster above? Never happens in the movie. The uncharacteristically awful cover on the Criterion release (linked below) is a frame grab from the film, but is pretty bad. Baumbach apparently left his wife, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, for Gerwig. Not trading up, buddy. Her plane Jane bestie is played by Mickey Sumner, Sting's daughter, who was the doomed hooker Katja in Low Winter Sun and looked nothing like her here.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" Review

I'm not a fan of the Sam Raimi-Croaky Maguire (sp?) Spider-Man films for various reasons and Sony's desperate reboot (only 10 years after they booted the franchise in order to keep the rights from reverting to Marvel) was another unnecessary origin story rehash. While Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were good upgrades over Maguire and Kirsten Dunst (though her boobs will be missed; Google Melancholia to make up for it), the story was meh (oh look, another accidental villain) and cold-feet studio editing lopped away hunks of plot, leaving The Amazing Spider-Man disjointed and halting, if pleasant enough in a too-familiar way.

Since sequels are the way of life these days it was inevitable that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was going to happen, but unfortunately for the franchise, they sort of swung straight to what made Spider-Man 3 such a fiasco, with too many stories, too many villains and not enough of what would make it matter.

The problems start immediately with a pre-credits sequence revisiting the shadowy circumstance of Peter Parker's parents perishing. They've been hinting that Peter Parker's powers prevail due to his father (Campbell Scott) tinkering with his DNA, but again they don't really make it clear. Then we're with Spider-Man chasing Paul Giamatti's Russian gangster character as Peter almost misses his high school graduation where Gwen Stacy gives a foreshadowing-heavy valedictory speech. He's haunted by visions of her father (Denis Leary), to whom he promised to stay away from at the end of the last movie. Then we have Jamie Foxx as a nerdy engineer who idolizes Spider-Man, but after an accident turns him into Electro (oh look, another accidental villain), he wants to kill Spider-Man.

But wait, there's more, Harry Osbourne (Dane DeHaan), a childhood friend of Peter's returns for the death of his father, taking control of Oscorp. Ill with the same weird genetic disease that claimed his father's life, Harry believes that Spider-Man's blood can cure him, but of course it doesn't and thus he becomes Green Goblin. By accident. Because of course. (It is a Spider-Man movie after all and hardly anyone is a bad guy by choice in these things.)

If they'd just chosen  two or three items off the menu, perhaps The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would've been a better movie. How to keep one's loved ones safe when you're a superhero is an interesting premise. How obsessive fandom can curdle into hatred has been done before (basically this is the arc Jim Carrey's Riddler followed in Batman Forever), but could still have potential. Same with Green Goblin, though that would require making it more plausible that Harry and Peter didn't separate when they were in 3rd grade. The mythology about his parents never makes sense and the hidden lab in the subway is absolutely ludicrous. (How is it still receiving power and working after a decade other than reasons?)

The way they handle Giamatti's "transformation" into the Rhino is ultra-stupid as well and exists only because Sony was eager to set up a Sinister Six all-villains movie. Why? Because Sony only has the rights to Spider-Man making him a lonely Marvel hero in a universe by himself compared to Fox's X-Men and Fantastic Four holdings and Marvel Studio's gigantic roster of cash cow franchises. When the only reason The Amazing Spider-Man existed was to keep the rights, it's unsurprising that Sony didn't proceed with story and characters as their priority and this muddle is the result.

It's too bad because the leads are good as far as they're allowed to work within the stuffed story. Stone will be missed whenever they get back into making a third installment (allegedly in 2018 due to the disappointing BO on this one), but they always planned to stick to the comic's canon. The visual effects are much more CGI-heavy whereas they attempted to use stuntmen for the web-swinging before. Sometimes it works, sometimes it looks weightless. While the VFX for Electro are pretty spiffy - he looks like a glowing, charged glass-and-plasma creature, sort of like Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, the effects of the final battle scene are cartoony-videogamey in appearance.

I wasn't that crazy about the first film and the mehness continues. Maybe one day a proper Spider-Man movie can/will be made, but I suspect it will require prying the rights out of Sony's hands first and that's highly unlikely to happen.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" Review

In the 300+ DVD reviews I did for IGN/The Digital Bits, I think I gave out fewer than five 10/10 scores. I'm drawing a blank on what they were, but the two I remember were Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (which had haters throwing that at me YEARS later - "You gave Sky Captain a 10, so your opinion on [whatever] is meaningless.") and the 2005 collaboration between renegade filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and comic book legend Frank Miller bringing to life the latter's graphic novels, Sin City. An exhilarating take on modern retro noir, it combined live actors with impossible-to-photograph-that-way CGI environments in high contrast black & white which echoed the bold art of Miller's books and the pitch black denizen of Basin City. It looked like nothing seen before and the arch hard-boiled dialog and stories walked the fine line between pastiche and parody. Mickey Rourke's comeback began here as brought Marv to vivid gritty life as his real-life effed-up mug was buried under makeup, but allowed the tender heart of the brute to shine through.

The road to this sequel has been a long one hampered by factors ranging from Miller foolishly believing he could do this movie thing without R.Rod (with the woeful The Spirit being the result) and R.Rod's own loss of focus culminating in the dreadful Machete Kills. Cast members had retired (Devon Aoki) and died (Michael Clark Duncan and Brittany Murphy) and while Angelina Jolie was rumored to be in talks to play the titular (in both senses) dame, that role ultimately went to Eva Green. Finally, 9 long years later we are getting back to the white blood and blacked hearts in Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.

A combined prequel/sequel to Sin City it draws both from Miller's existing graphic novels and fresh material penned for the movie, SC:ADTKF hews to the same interlocking episodic structure of the first one, though to less effective result due to the patchwork nature of the material. Whereas the first movie had a time jump between the halves of That Yellow Bastard segment with Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba which book-ended the movie, the three stories generally occupied the same space and time. This time there's a dissonance caused by stuff happening with Mickey Rourke's Marv (who died in the first movie, SPOILER ALERT for 9-year-old movie) and Dwight (this time played by Josh Brolin, pre-transformation into Clive Owen) and the conclusion of Nancy Callahan's (Alba) quest for revenge and the main story block, A Dame To Kill For. (For those trying to keep the timeline straight, The Hard Goodbye, Marv's story, is the last of all stories in both movies though it being the middle of the first. Confused?)

The movie opens with a clunky prologue reintroducing Marv and his warrior's code of justice and it immediately tips that there's rust in the gears of R.Rod/Miller's storytelling. Then Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes center stage as a card sharp with supernatural luck as he cleans out Powers Booth's corrupt Senator Roark (whose son was that yellow bastard) and then seems surprised that it backfires. Nancy's revenge ends the movie and somewhere in there is something involving Ray Liotta that I barely remember and it's all well and good, but everything else pales before the movie's longest and richest segment, the titular story.

This dame to kill for (and get killed for) is played by MVP Eva Green (see above, yeah) and she delivers more nudity than everyone else in BOTH Sin City films combined and has the black widow act down; you believe she's able to lead men to obsessive self-ruin. Between Penny Dreadful and this, Green is having a stellar year both acting and laying on the sexy. (Angelina Jolie was rumored to be wanted for this role and she would've killed it, but Green doesn't make me wish they'd made it 5 years ago with Jolie.)

I loveLOVELURVED the first Sin City, but while sitting in the screening the other night, it just felt lumpy and long; I was surprised it's only 1h 40m because it felt like 2 hours easily. The overheated noir dialog just dragged on and on and it lacked the original's energy; it's not the exhilarating rush the first was. Marv is just a charismatic gorilla this time - cool as usual, but lacking depth. Alba is OK when it counts, which was a pleasant surprise because as beautiful as she is, she's got the thespianic chops of a puppy. I didn't care for Josh Brolin as Dwight; he seemed like a different guy than Clive Owen, not just a different face.

Score: 7/10. Catch a matinee; skip the 3D.

"Who The F*ck Is Arthur Fogel?" Review

Who The F*ck Is Arthur Fogel? He's the CEO of LiveNation Global Touring division and responsible for 7 of the top 10 all-time highest-grossing tours ever including those of U2, Madonna and a reunited The Police. Tracing his history from his early days as a drummer in his native Canuckia, he and his partners broke out of the Great White North with their 1989 Steel Wheels tour of The Rolling Stones, an act that was considered pretty washed up at the time. It became the highest-grossing tour of its time.

Using the design and construction of the massive claw stage for U2's 360 Tour as a through line, the way Fogel revolutionized music touring is the subject of fawning testimonials from Bono and Sting and other one-named stars, but we never really learn what he did that was so different. Yeah, he's making his acts tons of money, but at what cost to attendees of the shows for whom ticket prices have skyrocketed into orbit. (I took my girlfriend on our first date to see U2 on ZOO TV in 1992 for $35 a ticket. I priced comparable seats for the 360 Tour and it would've cost us $520 for a pair. We didn't go.)

Also unmentioned is what the net profits of these massive spectacles are. Having three claw stages - one sets up in the next town; one is being torn down in the last town; the third is where the band is currently - and the army of crewmen necessary to assemble and move them must be enormous. They mention needing 200 hotel rooms for crew and band and a thousand workers per show, but how does that impact the bottom line? We know U2 grossed over $700 million, but did they spend $650 million on production costs? The ego stroke of having that top ranking seems to take precedence and while U2 mentions that they were barely breaking even on ZOO TV due to the costs, we don't know how Fogel fixed it other than cranking up ticket prices.

It's not all successes, though; the disastrous Diana Ross and the non-Supremes tour and a Guns n' Roses tour that had riots are mentioned, but overall it's a shallow lovefest for a guy who's clearly revolutionized the touring business, but we never get to understand how other than the stars he's made very rich like him bunches.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable if you're a music business nerd; otherwise skip it. (Watched on Netflix, but Amazon Prime has it, too.)

"Sunset Strip" Review

The legend of the legendary Sunset Strip is the topic of the part-history lesson/part-reminiscence documentary of the same name which is at its best when living in the distant past.

Covering its literal beginnings as a poinsettia farm in the early-20th Century through the rise of legendary nightclubs where the Rat Pack would hang out (before Las Vegas became the in scene for that crowd) in the post-war years (a la L.A. Confidential) through its reinvention as a hub of the counter-culture in the Sixties through the hair metal days of the Eighties until today, it weaves tons of interesting footage through interviews with the likes of Johnny Depp (founder of the Viper Room), Hugh Hefner (duh), uber-groupie Pamela Des Barres and more. When stand-up comedy's heyday is covered, the footage of Robin Williams took an a poignancy due to his recent suicide.

When the talk is of the history and their perspective, it's engaging, but as they approach the 1980s, it starts to come unglued as they short-shrift the punk scene of the late-Seventies with X and The Germs and then really underrepresented the Eighties metal scene with only Steel Panther (a parody act) being shown. Where is Van Halen? Where are Guns & Roses and Quiet Riot and Ratt and Motley Crue other than quick statements from Slash, Tommy Lee and Ratt. Where is Gazzarri's, other than just a passing item in the closing credits animation? Too often, celebrities are included in group interviews and never say a thing. Who cares about Jack Osbourne sitting there? While it's cool to see The Screaming Sirens' Pleasant Gehman sitting with Cherie Currie, unless you know who she is, it's irrelevant and why is Courtney Love doing most of the talking? Why is Billy Corgan's opinion relevant since Smashing Pumpkins were from Chicago?

What's most ironic about the detailing of the debauched history of the Sunset Strip is that unlike most parties you hear about, I didn't ever wish I had been there to partake.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable. (Watched on Netflix)

"Jack Reacher" Review

I've never read any of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels - partially because the genre doesn't interest me and mostly because I don't know how to read - so I went into viewing the 2012 Tom Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher fairly cold beyond the controversy about his casting which I'll address below.

The movie opens with Jai Courtney parking in a Pittsburgh parking structure and ruthlessly gunning down five apparently random people across the river. Police investigation leads to the arrest of someone else entirely upon whom a tidy frame-up job has been placed. He has only one response to his interrogation - "Get Jack Reacher" - before he is beaten into a coma while in jail. Who is Jack Reacher? As the trailer hints, he's a former military policeman who is off the grid and doesn't get found. He strides into the police station and basically believes him to be guilty because he's done something like this before in Iraq, but the convenient pile of evidence convinces him that justice won't be done unless the actual killer is found. Along the way, various forces try to stop him by first attempting to beat him down, then framing him for another killing. But nothing stops Jack from fighting back.

Adapted from the novel One Shot and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects) Jack Reacher is a fast-movie, occasionally surprisingly witty procedural with more flair than you'd expect from the material. The huge complaint about Cruise's casting is that the Reacher of the novels is described as "6'5" tall with a 50-inch chest and weighing between 220 and 250 pounds" (thanks Wikipedia!) which had many thinking Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would be an obvious choice (though the book version has blue eyes and dirty-blond hair, too), but the diminutive Cruise. However, I think having a more mortal-sized Reacher works in this context because the thugs that gang up on him don't anticipate his being able to clobber them back whereas any sentient being attacking The Rock would know that it was probably a poor idea to start with.

The actual machinations of the caper are somewhat thin - really, it's about construction contracts? - and Rosamund Pike's wide-eyed agape performance as the lawyer defending the accused is dopey. But Cruise delivers the goods and the movie doesn't bog down in pretensions of significance. Movies like Jack Reacher are what cable TV was made for, so put the feet up and enjoy with little thought.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"The People vs. George Lucas" Review

The People vs. George Lucas.jpg

The title overstates the case of The People vs. George Lucas, the 2010 documentary which purportedly takes the Star Wars creator to the woodshed for the crimes of "raping one's childhood" and "Jar Jar Binks," but in actuality it's more of a statement of occasionally misplaced and other times justified frustration at the man who sparked so much imagination in generations of fans and then didn't do what they imagined he should with the prequel trilogy.

Briskly combining numerous interviews with fans and sci-fi/fantasy luminaries ranging from Neil Gaiman to Chris Gore with archival footage of Lucas, The People vs. George Lucas attempts to square his towering achievement (original trilogy, episodes 4-6) with his supposedly ignoble failure (the other ones, particularly The Phantom Menace), which while not as good as the original trilogy, are a damn sight better than garbage like Pacific Rim. While some arguments are cogent, as when they contrast his firm opposition to colorizing movies with his alterations for the Special Edition versions released in 1997, they also take cheap easy shots at Jar Jar Binks while ignoring what really wrecked The Phantom Menace: Jake Lloyd's dippy Anakin. (There's a reason this kid never really worked again. He's gotta be in his 20s now, someone should ask him about being terrible.)

As someone whose DNA was written as a 10-year-old boy in the summer of 1977 by Star Wars, I've always been annoyed by the squalling crybabies who grew up watching Star Wars on VHS lecturing me how I should be pressing sexual assault charges on behalf of my childhood, something The People vs. George Lucas addresses by noting that it's not as if the three "good" movies ceased to be good because of the "bad" ones. There's an element of, "Who owns Star Wars: the Creator or the Fans" and while that can't be truly answered, they at least give voice to both sides of the argument.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently available on Amazon Prime and Netflix)

P.S. There's a fresh rumor that the original, unaltered versions of the Original Trilogy may be coming ahead of Episode VII's release in Dec. 2015, something fans have been clamoring for since forever and will probably not shut up their complaining when they get it.

"Holy Motors" Review

Critics suck. (Yes, I appreciate the irony of that sentence.) When Holy Motors topped many critics' Best of 2012 lists, I noticed something odd: While many did the usual orgasmic rhapsodizing about how amazeballs it was, almost no one was discussing the plot. I finally called out one such critic in the comments and his mealy-mouthed reply was the usual chin-stroking about how it was blah-blah-woof-woof; it just turns into the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons at that point. While flicking through Netflix's virtual shelves trying to agree on a movie with the girlfriend, it came up and so we decided to see what the hoohaw was about.

Short Version: It's weird.

Longer Version: It's weeeeeeeeeeiiiirrrrrd.

You can look at the trailer below (which for some dumb reason spoils the very end of the movie, not that it matters) it looks like a surreal miasma of nutsy crazoid WTFery, but it barely scratches the surface of the trip (both meanings) we take with director Leos Carax and star Denis Lavant who plays Mr. Oscar, an actor(?) chauffeured around Paris on "assignments" which involve him stepping out in a variety if guises. First he's an elderly woman begging on the street then he's a motion capture performer busting out ninja moves before simulating sex with a contortionist then it gets weeeeeeiiiirrrrrd in a segment involving Eva Mendes as a model. (According to Wikipedia, this character originated in Carax and Lavant's segment from the omnibus film Tokyo! - I have this DVD, so I'll have to backtrack) which leads to more odd, oddly banal, banally weird, crazy pants huh, and then super-weird and head-scratching. Don't ask me what it means; I suspect a lost bet was involved with this production.

If you're someone who likes tight plots and snappy dialog, keep on moving. But if you're someone who doesn't care if movies are so open to interpretation as to have nearly no inherent meaning, then Holy Motors may just be your cuppa. There is no denying that it's unlike pretty much anything else you'll see this or any year. Whether it makes sense or means anything will be up to the viewer to decide as no assembly instructions were included.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable. (Netflix has it.)

"Machete Kills" Blu-ray Review

I've been avoiding watching Machete Kills for several months now. I was so dispirited by the Aztlan-reconquista agitprop of the original Machete in which all the gringos were racist caricatures and the slackly co-directed and edited action - usual multi-hyphenate director Robert Rodriguez's strong suit - that I never finished my review in Sept. 2010 (it scored a 6/10, rent the DVD). Add on his unappealing kiddie flicks Shorts and Spy Kids 4 and I wondered if he'd somehow lost the plot, making me fear for the coming-in-two-weeks Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. Finally, I tossed the BD into the player and....

He appears to have lost the plot. Badly.

Machete has always been a thin joke from its origins as a fake trailer in Grindhouse (his tag-team with Quentin Tarantino in which he surpassed handily), but amidst the rancid politics of the first film was some decent cheesy action and kicks, especially M.Rod as Shé (get it?). Piled high with cameos, it was OK, but nowhere as good as R.Rod's prime work like Desperado and the first Sin City.

After a funny fake trailer for the proposed 2nd sequel, Machete Kills Again...In Space, the momentum grinds to almost an full stop as a clumsy and confused opening sequence serves to just kill off Jessica Alba's character (still no sign of acting life either) and put Machete (Danny Trejo, duh) in a noose at the hands of a racist Arizona sheriff. (Would you be surprised to learn that R.Rod hosted a big dollar fundraiser for Obama at his place recently? Didn't think so and, no, I'm not kidding.)

Saved by a call from President Carlos Estevez (recycling the gag from Machete where Don Johnson was titled with "introducing"), Machete is dispatched to Mexico to grab a terrorist (Dimien Bichar, making his minor role in The Heat look respectable) who controls a rocket aimed at Washington D.C. While on his quest, Machete gets a brothel of hotties led by Sofia Vergara and Alexa Vega (unrecognizably growed up from her Spy Kids days, no really, look for yourself)...

Aye carumba!
...on his tail along with a hitman called The Chameleon played by....well, that's half of the limited fun, so I won't spoil it.

Eventually Machete finds his way the the true villain, Mel Gibson (having a total blast despite getting lots of boring yammering), who has a scheme to live in space and something something bad guy blah-blah-woof-woof. At this point, who cares other than to watch R.Rod recycle other gags from his movies, especially the end of Once Upon A Time In Mexico. The script by rookie typist Kyle Ward is a mess; why did R.Rod shoot this weak pastiche?

While the Machete films were never meant to be taken seriously and the first one was saddled with enough unfun baggage to make a burro sigh, Machete Kills is simply boring 99% of the time. I'm sure that someone on YouTube has chopped the isolated good bits into a fake trailer; go see if I'm right rather than slog through this mess. There's has a cheap patina to everything and I don't mean as a tribute to its grindhouse roots by rather a tacky, overly bright SyFy movie vibe. VFX are occasionally impressive, but frequently SyFy/Spy Kids caliber. The story doesn't hold water and there's too much speechifying about nothing, not even agitprop like the first had. (When you're missing 2nd string Rage Against The Machine-style rhetoric, that's a bad sign.)

Robert Rodriguez used to be my favorite filmmaker. I've read his book Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player about how he made El Mariachi and created an accidental sensation. I've devoured his commentaries and his terrific 10-Minute Film School featurettes from which I've taken tips that I've used in my videos. He's DIY aesthetic and "creativity over throwing money at it" philosophy were terrific. But something has happened with his work. He'd slipped before with the kiddie flick The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl (so mediocre I gave it to a fiend for her kid to watch), but just as Tiger Woods never being quite the same after his marriage blew up, R.Rod's dalliance with Rose McGowan after they'd worked on Planet Terror seems to have changed him for the worse. His expanded TV series take on From Dusk Til Dawn lost me after 4 or 5 episodes and Machete Kills really makes me wonder if Sin City co-director Frank Miller will be able to slap some sense into him. (Based on how bad The Spirit - Miller's attempt to copy R.Rod's Sin City style by himself - turned out, unlikely.)

As far as the Blu-ray goes, it looks and sounds fine with rich colors and fine detail and booming bass, but the crispness only amplifies the video-ish look. (They used Arri ALEXA cameras, the same as Roger Deakins used for Skyfall, so it's not the gear.) The extras are pitiful with some deleted/extended scenes that I didn't bother watching and a 20-minute making of which mostly consists of everyone happy joy talking R.Rod and how great he is and how sweet Trejo is. If you understand what a happy cast means in conjunction with making Cannonball Run 2, you know why this explains the movie. Otherwise there's nothing else: no film or cooking school; no commentary; no nothing but the fluff. So disappointing.

The only thing R.Rod killed with Machete Kills is the franchise. Please don't make Sin City: A Dame To Kill For suck, PLEASE!!!

Score: 2/10. Skip it.

"The Art of the Steal" Review

Slick, amusing and utterly unmemorable; that's The Art of the Steal  - not to be confused with the excellent 2009 documentary of the same name about how Philadelphia and Pennsylvanian politicians conspired to confiscate a multi-billion collection of art - a comedic caper flick filled with colorful cartoonish characters capering around the world. It won't make you regret watching it, just as long as you have no expectations going in. (There's some advert copy!)

It opens with Kurt Russell being shown to his cell in a Polish prison before flashing back three days to explain how he get there in the first place as a convoluted art heist going sideways led to his half-brother Matt Dillon ratting him out. (From arrest to conviction is only 2 days in Poland?!?) 5-1/2 years later, Russell gets out and is working as a discount Evel Knievel, deliberately crashing his bike for an extra $800 at the behest of the promoter. As if that's not bad enough, Dillon has been screwing over new accomplices and when one of them comes after Russell, he decides it's time to get the band back together for an ultra-complex heist of a mythical book locked up in an impenetrable Customs facility in Niagara Falls. Hijinks ensue.

With all the obligatory double-crosses and what not the plot is a jumbled mess of contrivances and counter-scams, but it goes down easily thanks to a a game cast that also includes Jay Baruchel and Terrance Stamp. It's also very striking in its production design, art direction and the way writer-director Jonathan Sobol shoots and edits the action. It's a great-looking movie with good performances and a decent amount of laughs like when Dillon is pickpocketing people including a little girl, but not particularly worth hunting down. It's the very definition of "watch it if it happens to be on while you're flipping channels.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable. (It's currently on Netflix.)

"John Waters: This Filthy World" Review

After finishing I Am Divine, Netflix suggested John Waters: This Filthy World, suggesting it was a documentary by comedian Jeff Garland. It isn't; it's a filmed stage performance from 2006, like a stand-up comedy special, where Waters is the witty raconteur recounting his career. 

He pretty much recaps his life and career with plenty of LOL moments in this brisk 85-minute talkathon, occasionally digressing into stand-uppy material like who would let their burned kids visit Michael Jackson, that was taped prior to the film of his musical Hairspray beginning production. While it's very funny and he's a great talker, it's best consumed by fans who are aware of the broad outlines of his career. If you watch I Am Divine first, that should be sufficient to get you through this without being too lost.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable. (Netflix has it and it's currently embedded below.)

"I Am Divine" Review

If they've even heard of Divine, most people's knowledge of gonzo trash cult filmmaker John Waters' longtime collaborator/muse is probably limited to this: "That's the fat drag queen who ate dog poop in that movie." While that's absolutely correct (I will probably watch Schindler's List before Pink Flamingos), there's a whole lot more to the fascinating and ultimately tragically short life of one Harris Glenn Milstead as told by the expansive documentary, I Am Divine.

With the prominence of gay and transgender/crossdressing performers like RuPaul common in the media today, it's hard to imagine the late-Sixties/early-Seventies' reaction to Divine and frankly, compared to what passes for "transgressive" today (e.g. oooooh, Miley Cyrus twerked), the antics and work of Waters and his band of misfit misfits are still pretty terrifying. But behind the shock were a group of people orbiting a sweet man named Glenn, whose ravenous appetites were his undoing, who were just doing their thing because why not.

With plenty of clips from Waters' films and Divine's stage and concert performances (she was a big - no pun - disco star in the Eighties, like a scary fat Dead Or Alive) and interviews with his mother, Waters and many of the performers and crew from the films, we get a feeling for Divine's life, though the seeds of his ultimate demise are clearly planted. Face it, he was eating for a reason and it finally killed him the night before he was to start work on Married With Children in a male role. It's sad that no one was able to stop him from putting himself in an early grave because he was clearly transitioning into a new and potentially interesting phase of his career.

Score: 8/10. Catch it on cable. (Netflix has it.)

"Broadway Idiot" Review

When Green Day's American Idiot album was turned into a Broadway musical, the initial and understandable response was to snark that Billy Joe Armstrong and company had drifted farther away from their punky Gilman Street roots than anyone could've imagined (read: "SELLOUTS!"), but how does a concept album become a hit musical? You get a glimpse, but not much insight, from Broadway Idiot.

Committing one of the most common sins of documentaries - not telling the viewer when things are happening - Broadway Idiot gives a superficial overview of how the album was adapted for an initial skeptical band (who could've killed the project after extensive work had already be put in if they didn't dig it) and follows as the show is initially mounted by the Berkeley Repertory Theater before moving to Broadway.

While we see the rehearsals and discussion of how to thread a narrative through the album's songs, there's very little solid in the way of insights or struggles shown so it comes off as more of a glossy tour souvenir/fluffy promo piece. That a chunk of the songs came from Green Day's follow-up 21st Century Breakdown is totally ignored, making this a poor source for those unfamiliar with the show's construction. (You really shouldn't need to know so much before watching a documentary.)

Armstrong's stint on Broadway as St. Jimmy is portrayed as the director's dream when in actuality it was a bit of a stunt to goose sagging ticket sales. However, this portion includes the surprising footage of an 11-year-old Billy Joe singing "Send In The Clowns" and "What's The Matter With Kids These Days?" with the revelation that took voice lessons for 10 years and sang Sinatra. This leads the show's music arranger/orchestrator, Tom Kitt, to theorize that Armstrong's songwriting was influenced by his exposure to non-pop music fare.

I've seen the touring production twice (my review here) and while it's a bit of a whiny, dour bummer, the music is solid and really soars when blown out into these arrangements; this is what I listen to over the original albums. If you're a fan of the show, it's worth giving Broadway Idiot a look, but it's too superficial to make it essential or reference-grade.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (Netflix has it.)

"Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage" Review

Canuckian prog-rockers Rush were inducted into the Rock & Rock Hall of Fame in 2013 and for 40 years have been the epitome of musician's musicians, never really being considered "cool" and never really topping the pop charts, while being a consistent and sizeable-drawing act and their rise and further rise is documented in Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, a slick if somewhat superficial retrospective.

Tracing the band's history from Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson's childhood friendship in North York (a suburb of Toronto), the doc is chockablock with tons of info tidbits that I, a casual fan of their early mid-era material (i.e. Permanent Waves until the keyboards ate them alive in the Eighties), didn't know. How they got their record deal in a day after having a song hit in Cleveland that was basically chosen to give DJs a chance to take a dump (the same reason "Stairway To Heaven" and "Free Bird" and "Kashmir" and "Inna Gadda Davida" were FM staples) is one such detail. Their association with then-new KISS and their time touring with a pre-superstar Ted Nugent were also news to me. There's footage of really early shows and behind-the-scenes drama with Lifeson's family that appears to be from a contemporaneous documentary that's never explained, but provides an angle rarely covered because who has people covering them in their earliest days?

The emphasis is mostly on their beginning and after the mid-Eighties it seems to skip over albums with a wave of the hand, so it's far from complete; it's like a glorified Behind The Music episode for a band where no one had drug problems and the only devastating tragedy was the deaths of Peart's daughter (accident) and wife (cancer) in a short period that sent him a 55,000-mile motorcycle journey across North and South America to cope, putting the band on hold for what they thought could be forever.

A hardcore Rush fan friend of mine groused that the doc didn't cover Peart's trip to England before joining the band where he discovered Ayn Rand's work which deeply informed his lyrics and other trivial details, but since this was before he joined and Rand's influence is touched upon, I think this is being nitpicky. While not a penetrating expose laying bare the souls of Rush in encyclopedic detail, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage manages to leave most viewers more informed and possibly curious to delve deeper into the band's massive catalog than before.

Score: 8/10. Catch it on cable. (Netflix has it.)

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