An extreme assault on one’s own senses, one that takes you in like a great punk rock song. In Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell, you’re only left with this vague title describing something that can mean anything. It could even mean something pleasant because she’s wearing a whole lot of perfume in order to put on some fragrance for the show, but that’s also a part of what makes the whole film so wonderful in the same sense too. The third pairing of Alex Ross Perry and Elisabeth Moss isn’t only the most stressful film that they’ve made together, but it’s also the most chaotic of the sort. It’s chaotic in the sense that it shrouds you in everything that could lead to its own main character’s downfall, but Perry does not simply make his film only about the plight that one suffers in that sense. If there’s anything else that Alex Ross Perry has added to his own body of work with Her Smell, it’s a cementation for Perry’s name being among the most distinctive voices in American independent cinema. For all that said talent would be worth, this is where he finds himself having made his most significant work yet.
The easy way to look at The Dirt, the new Netflix biopic about 80s shock-rock group Mötley Crüe, is that somebody took one of the most notorious rock acts in the world and made a mostly harmless by-the-numbers biopic about them.
Most of our plucky readership probably understands the biopic formula, but for those who don’t, Patrick H. Willems made the only video you’ll ever need to see on the subject. If you don’t have 35 minutes to spend on watching a video, here’s a quick and dirty version: biopics take the messy life of a person and try to shape it into a neat dramatic arc for easy digestion, which would be fine if a.) the formula wasn’t so overused, with movies like Ray, Walk the Line, Get On Up, Straight Outta Compton, and Bohemian Rhapsody essentially telling the same story with a few differences of varying importance, and b.) if the act of squeezing an entire life into a two hour story didn’t gloss over so many crucial, fascinating details within that life. Point B seems especially prudent in the case of The Dirt; watching it, I felt like you could’ve made at least three movies about the band.
Movie 1 would be about the rise. After the biopic’s standard in media res introductory scene, we meet each band member starting with bassist Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), who at a young age distances himself from his mother (Kathryn Morris) and the multiple abusive stepfathers she keeps bringing into their home. In contrast to Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee (Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly) had a happy and supportive home life and a deep love of hard rock. Guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) is an old man compared to these kids, but he’s got a degenerative bone disease that pushes him to go harder than most dudes half his age. Rounding out the group is lead singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), a high school buddy of Tommy’s who joins up as a favor to his friend and is really just in it to get laid. Within each other, these four dudes find a groove together and start tearing up the Sunset Strip until a record label (represented here by Pete Davidson at his adorkable best) inevitably takes notice and pulls them into the spotlight. Movie 2 would be about the fall; the band tearing itself apart as the weight of their excessive lifestyle starts to take a toll on them, culminating in Sixx’s heroin overdose. Movie 3 would be about the band’s emergence from rehab as the cultural shift to grunge was right around the corner, and their struggle to stay invested in the music and each other now that everything that made it fun has been taken away from them.
Any one of these stories would be bangers on their own; when you relegate each of them to a single act of a larger story that’s squeezed into an hour and 48 minutes, things start feeling rushed and emotional beats don’t land like they should. The first arena gig for these boys should feel like a big, triumphant moment. Without a good buildup to that moment, however—without a sense of the evolution and trial-and-error it took to get to that point—it’s just kinda there. A lot of such moments are just kinda there, undermining a lot of the film’s dramatic power.
Despite all that, the movie has a lot going for it, starting with a low-key self-awareness that the core story being told is a story we’re all familiar with. This is Jeff Tremaine’s first full narrative feature after something of a soft start with Bad Grandpa. He ends up being an inspired pick, clearly believing in the story he’s telling without necessarily believing it’s a capital-I Important one. Without the pretension that makes many of these biopics insufferable and more vulnerable to scrutiny (the fact that it only briefly acknowledges Tommy Lee’s issues with domestic violence and flat out ignores Vince Neil’s own issues with assaulting women seems a little less questionable when it’s so clearly not going for Oscars), Tremaine is free to make himself comfortable within the well-worn formula and focus on the things he does best. His experience on Jackass and its many spinoffs gives him an intrinsic understanding of the appeal of excess and bad behavior and the power of brotherhood and found family. To that effect, his four leads have impeccable chemistry, allowing the film to partially compensate for its lack of appropriate breathing room and ultimately stick the landing. The Dirt may be a safe story about a dangerous band, but it’s still a well-told and engaging one.
Watch the trailer here:
Image courtesy of Netflix
Directed by Jeff Tremaine Screenplay by Rich Wilkes and Amanda Adelson, from the book by Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil, and Nikki Sixx, with Neil Strauss Produced by Julie Yorn, Erik Olsen, Allen Kovac Starring Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon, Colson Baker, Daniel Webber, Pete Davidson, David Costabile Release Date: March 22, 2019 Running Time: 108 minutes
Queen was a band whose music defined an entire generation, and over the years their popularity never would die down. But between every album there was a whole lot more that came along the way especially given how fascinating a subject like Freddie Mercury is. Beloved by many, and also having established himself as one of the most recognizable queer icons in history, trying to make a biopic about their history was always going to be a difficult subject to tackle and to say the least, a film like Bohemian Rhapsody only tries to go so far. But “trying” can only get you somewhere, because that’s one way of describing where everything had gone wrong with Bohemian Rhapsody. If you’re already thinking of many of the most influential bands of all time, whether it be generation-defining names like The Beatles or Nirvana, you’d already imagine that there would be many tensions coming along the way – and Queen weren’t saints in that same regard either. But there comes a point where you’re looking at a story about a band struggling to remain together as difficult as their relationships may be and outright lying to the audience through the obvious favouring of many members over the other. And unfortunately, Bohemian Rhapsody happens to be the latter.
I think that a film about a rising teen pop star already finds itself with a very fitting start after it plays a Grimes song during the opening credits. Something that would be rather easy for me to say, because I am a huge fan of Grimes’s music, but how exactly it fits into the context of Max Minghella’s own directorial debut – that’s another story being told. It’s a film that encapsulates whatbuilds up “teen spirit” in that very sense, of course with being set in the world of music as a perfect support system. Yet there’s something about Teen Spirit that still carries an endearing enough quality, even beyond how much fun writer-director Max Minghella is having with the music scene. But sometimes I wonder if being fond of the music in itself would be critical to one’s own enjoyment of the film, because I already know that sitting there watching Teen Spirit and even wanting to hum to the tunes to I recognized well enough while I was in the theater made me feel like I was really in that moment.
I grew up in a family of musicians; my father plays trumpet, my mother was a musical theater kid. My brother and sister were both in marching band; my sister played French horn, which she’s since put down, and my brother played trombone, which he still plays today. I myself went through a saxophone and drum phase before deciding that I was better suited to appreciate music than play it.
See, even when it’s in your blood, you have to connect to it. The human desire to create means that there are so many barriers to a career in entertainment, ranging from talent to sheer luck, that you can’t be in it if you don’t love it because it will beat you down. My sister decided early that she wasn’t cut out for it and became a teacher. My brother, on the other hand, took a real run at it—and it actually treated him well. Still, it was a long road stacked with sacrifices both emotional and physical, and one thing that was ruined for him in the process was the concept of the rags-to-riches music drama. Not that we’re all necessarily looking forward to Bradley Cooper’s take on A Star is Born (though I’ll say, gotta respect that Matthew Libatique photography), but I’m pretty sure his response to the trailer would be a long, loud fart noise. Music doesn’t turn on out-of-nowhere discoveries and overnight sensations, he’d argue; nobody opens the door for you. According to him, the key to success in the music industry is to beat yourself against the door until you break it open, only to find that you’re in a room full of doors. You then have to pick one and beat yourself against that, and hope that when or if you bust through, it doesn’t drop you out of the damn building. I’d argue that the fairy tale of it all is still entertaining, and holds aspirational value to us as a collective. For my brother, who lives in the thick of the struggle, they’re impossible to buy into at best, irresponsible at worst.
I thought about my brother a lot while watching Hearts Beat Loud, the new drama from director Brett Haley (TheHero, I’ll See You In My Dreams). It’s been out for a while at this point, but it just recently started playing in my area, and I decided to see it on a lark. I knew the basic premise, and I knew a friend of mine saw it while she was in the city and couldn’t stop raving about it. To be honest, I was expecting something that swung for the fences; my friend compared it to John Carney’s Sing Street, which was my favorite film of 2016 and dealt in the kind of sweeping narrative choices and big romantic proclamations I’m often drawn to, the kind that lends themselves to the music industry fairy tales that my brother despises. (Of course, that’s not the kind of movie Sing Street is; for the record, my brother mostly loved that movie, but I suspect Carney’s previous work, Begin Again, would make him break out in hives.)
That’s not the story Haley (and co-writer Marc Basch) is telling, though. This is a focused slice-of-life piece about a month in the lives of widower dad Frank (Nick Offerman) and his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons). Frank’s a musician who runs a small record shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn; Sam, however, is off to UCLA in the fall to become a doctor and is already absorbed in summer classes at a local college to stay competitive. This, of course, is a fairly expensive ambition, so changes have to be made: After 17 years in business, Frank’s shutting down the record shop to get a real job that will help put Sam through school, much to the consternation of his friend and landlady Leslie (Toni Collette).
Though Sam’s dead set on being a doctor, she’s also a hell of a musician in her own right and enjoys bonding with Frank over regular jam sessions. During one such session, they turn some lyrics that Sam wrote and a catchy keyboard hook into a powerful single, with Sam singing lead and handling most of the production while Frank plays guitar. In a heady, borderline drunken mix of faith in his daughter and longing for the old days, Frank rolls the dice and uploads the single to Spotify, though he doesn’t really believe anything will come of it. In a wild twist of fate, however, Spotify puts it on a weekly playlist alongside several other high-tier indie rock acts.
Weeks before Sam’s set to leave for college, the world’s biggest music streaming service has deemed her little daddy-daughter garage band act worthy of being listed with the likes of Spoon. Now what?
Is it time for Sam to reassess her priorities and get ready to go on tour? Not quite. As Frank should know all too well, getting a little attention for a single and some interest in representation doesn’t mean you’re destined for stardom; there are levels to success when you’re a musician, and Sam’s all too aware that she and Frank have stumbled into the lowest one. Frank’s the dreamer; he wants to lean into it and see how far they can take it. Sam’s the realist; she doesn’t want to throw her life away on a silly band, no matter how good she might be at it. The question becomes, what responsibility do you have to develop your own latent talent? Is it more irresponsible to ignore a valid career path for something you love but will probably fail at, or ignore your obvious love of something for guaranteed money doing something else? The easy answer in these situations may be to “follow your heart,” but what happens when your heart genuinely wants these two incompatible things, both the stability and adventure of medical school in LA and the excitement and comfort of making music with your old man in Brooklyn? (Haley’s set up an interesting dynamic with this; most people go to LA to become famous, but here it’s the other way around, where staying home feels like more of a risk.)
These are big questions, and Haley answers them, but not directly; he stays laser-focused on the loving relationship between father and daughter, throwing in a bunch of interesting side characters that allow them to reveal other sides of themselves. In addition to Leslie, whom Frank grows closer to over the course of the movie, Ted Danson shows up as Frank’s pothead confidante and local bartender, while Sasha Lane makes a winning appearance as Rose, a young artist who captures Sam’s heart and makes the prospect of leaving Brooklyn a lot more complicated. Blythe Danner also appears for a couple of scenes as Marianne, Frank’s mom and Sam’s grandma who’s slowly succumbing to dementia, further complicating any hypothetical rock stardom scenarios that Frank and Sam might entertain, local or otherwise. Everyone here turns in great, gentle supporting performances, with an emphasis on “supporting.” Haley and Basch don’t have anyone even resembling an antagonist in their script, preferring to play directly to the nuanced conflict between Frank and Sam.
The whole movie rests on the shoulders of Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons, and they carry it with ease. As Frank, Offerman sheds his trademark imposing machismo and plays Frank as a fairly chill overgrown teenager. Clemons, a talented young actress who was one of the few bright spots of the otherwise ill-advised Flatliners remake, proves to be incredibly winning while she tries to chart this complicated course between her feelings of responsibility and her desires. Neither of them plays their characters as arch; Frank’s no stage dad who has to learn to let go of the past, and Sam’s no workaholic who needs to pace herself. They’ve already had 18 years to learn from each other, they clearly love each other, and at this point, they’re just trying to balance their own desires with whatever seems “right.” Consequently, they do each other wrong at times, but they’re often quick to forgive and forget and quietly work through their conflicts, both with each other and within themselves, by making music, climaxing in a concert that isn’t so much make-or-break for whatever hopes and dreams they may have as it is a powerful, personal breakthrough in their relationship. The film, then, is less of a fairy tale and more about the raw therapeutic power of music, or perhaps any form of art; how it can communicate for you when the words don’t quite come, how it can make things clear when life seems fuzzy and uncertain. Art, Haley argues, is bigger than simple up-or-down success.
That’s not to say he spells it out for you. In arriving at this point, Haley doesn’t seem as interested in epic gestures and revelations as he is in natural growth. Both Frank and Sam end the movie as different people than how they started, but their changes don’t come through sudden revelations as they do from the weight of their combined experiences throughout the film. The first time I saw Sing Street, I wanted to stand up and cheer and clap and dance in the aisles to “Drive It Like You Stole It” while it played over the credits. I didn’t want to leave the theater after Hearts Beat Loud either, but rather than dance, I just wanted to quietly soak it all in.
On the technical front, the film is low-key but far from cheap. This isn’t a story that demands slick visuals; rather, Haley and cinematographer Eric Lin build their film on simple, colorful setups that effectively tell the story. There’s a shot of Sam and Rose in bed together, fully clothed, that sticks out to me as communicating more intimacy than some sex scenes on the simple merit of how perfectly it’s framed and colored (of course, credit that to the strong chemistry between Clemons and Lane as well). Meanwhile, Patrick Colman’s editing brings the musical sequences to percussive life, and Keegan DeWitt’s music is splendid; his original songs are wonderful, emotional indie-pop confections, and he uses the underlying melodies of those songs to build a score rife with heartache and reflection.
Having never seen any of Haley’s films before—which is something I’m going to have to remedy very soon—I had momentarily fallen into the trap of assuming this was a breakout first feature from him; this is obviously not the case, but it points to the appeal of the myth of the overnight sensation that my brother hates so much. See, as false as it may be, there’s a certain joy to be taken in watching a talent come from seemingly out of nowhere to knock you on your ass. That’s the joy I felt watching this film, and knowing Haley’s been doing this for even just a few years doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t know his name before today. For me, there’s an irony in the fact that Brett Haley has gotten my attention with a film that plays down the importance of getting attention and focuses on the joys of art for its own sake.
See Hearts Beat Loud at your earliest possible convenience. See it with someone special if you can; significant other or beloved family member, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure the volume is cranked up accordingly.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Gunpowder & Sky
Directed by Brett Haley
Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch
Produced by Sam Bisbee, Houston King & Sam Slater
Starring Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Sasha Lane, Toni Collette, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 97 minutes
I wasn’t particularly grabbed to check out this documentary because I’ve never been a fan of Oasis (I had always preferred their “rival” Britpop group Blur). I don’t like their music, nor the offstage personalities of Liam and Noel Gallagher so naturally I wouldn’t be the right audience for Supersonic. Nevertheless the height of their own popularity had otherwise left a great influence on many bands that had followed afterwards so I was hoping to have gotten a taste about what the Gallagher brothers themselves feel about what they had done for music from their years together before their well-known feud. If I really had much to say, I didn’t pick up anything else from this – my views about the Gallagher brothers only had ever remained the same.
For starters, I have been a massive Pink Floyd fan since high school and although I know The Wall is one of their best-selling and most highly regarded albums, to me it has always been one of their least interesting efforts. That’s not to say I have ever disliked it, but next to the likes of other big albums in their discography like The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here (my favourite of theirs), it still sounds highly underwhelming because too much of it seemed like meaningless filler and the occasional great song comes then and there. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t really loved a Floyd album after Animals because it almost felt to me as if Roger Waters was wearing the Floyd name to back up his solo efforts and it leaves everyone else feeling suffocated. So what’s to be said about a film based around said album, written by Roger Waters?
Although I’m a fairly big fan of The Smiths I have to admit that it was never easy for me to listen to them because of Morrissey himself. It was even to the point I thought I hated the music of The Smiths, because I could never stand Morrissey as a person. I hate the sort of personality he carried, for he’s always struck me as an uptight tool who loves himself over all else. For this reason alone I was especially skeptical of the idea of a biopic being made about his early years, even for someone who listens to their music on a regular basis. I could only have imagined a biopic that was to be made about Morrissey would be one that never went into what I had always known him as, and to say the least – it is exactly what I got from England is Mine. It’s an ugly biopic that celebrates a singer whose personality is the exact opposite of what listening to their voice singing beautiful songs was like.
I think it’s only fitting enough for me to admit that I’m a total sucker for the films of Pixar Animation Studios because of how much of an impact they had left on my own childhood. Toy Story was the first film I had ever seen as a kid and Finding Nemo was the first film that I had seen in theaters, so to say the least, I do owe them a great lot for forming many fond childhood memories. That having been said, what I miss greatly is the time in which they had been able to present one wonderful film after another and the Cars films had broken that streak of success. After a string of disappointments one after another with the exception of Inside Out, Coco is yet another hit – and hopefully a sign that Pixar may be back to what they had always been best at. It seems both blessed and cursed in the sense that it may hint at Pixar finding a sense of consistency once again, but a curse upon the thought it may merely be a fluke but as far as Pixar’s future is concerned I am hoping only for the best.
A good deciding factor in what you will end up thinking of Shut Up and Play the Hits is your own opinion of LCD Soundsystem. With the release of american dream last month (a great album if you were to ask me), I figured that I would go ahead and watch them deliver a final blow for many fans to see them for the last time in 2011. The whole time I watched Shut Up and Play the Hits, to say the least, I would have wanted to be there to see an incredible show being put up – just as I can only imagine an LCD Soundsystem concert would be like. But knowing they were bound to reunite, it would still be interesting enough to see what they had done for fans one last time. To say the least, it really seemed just like what any final show should have been like, a truly great live performance.
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