Monday, December 3, 2018

No Rush, Thanks

By Steve Evans

I love rock documentaries. Any chance I get to learn context and meaning behind the music, I jump on it. Sometimes I get lucky and encounter an unintentional comedy disguised as a rock doc, leaving me sputtering with laughter. Rob Reiner’s great mockumentary This is Spinal Tap (1984) relentlessly skewered rock and roll pomposity and stupidity, of which there remains no shortage.

Sometimes, though, you don’t need a work of satire to help high-minded musicians look foolish. Often, they don’t need any help.

This set the scene for my viewing of Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, a film about the Canadian power trio’s 40-odd year career. The picture came out eight years ago, though I had successfully dodged it until last night when, in a fit of tedium, I cracked into a six-pack of particularly good beer and cued up that Rush doc. Eons ago, when I was in high school, Rush was an anomaly. If you listened to them at all, it was just to tide you over in-between Zeppelin albums. From the first time I heard the band, I thought a root canal could be no more painful. Or a spinal tap. Not even sure why I watched the damn documentary last night, except beer was involved.

But I’m glad I did. This is a band that should be slapped for writing a song titled By-Tor and the Snow Dog, which still makes me giggle decades on. Their early success, 2112, is a ponderous space-rock concept album that devotees say is best experienced, if not understood, under the influence of vodka and Quaaludes. From my high school days I recall the band’s biggest fans were people you wouldn’t want to be alone with.

The stumbling block for me was always Geddy Lee, the band’s bassist. His banshee-shrieking, kicked-in-the-balls vocals could resurrect a cemetery of skeletons who’d abandon their graves in mute protest. Tunes like Tom Sawyer and Freewill (a wince-inducing ode to whack-job Ayn Rand) were staples of MOR classic rock radio stations. Still are, for all I know. My best recollection of Rush in their heyday was making fun of them with my own band of hooligans out at the lake, blasting the local FM station on a boombox and striking absurd rock-hero poses on the sand whenever a Rush tune was played. Some music ages well. Some music does not. Some sounds just as ludicrous as the day the tunes were pressed into vinyl.

What elevates this documentary to comedy gold is the occasional interview with one of the band’s celebrity fans. When a no-talent peanut head like Jack Black starts using the words “Rush” and “intellectual” in the same sentence, it’s time to pop another beer and stare in amazement that absolutely no one, except me, is laughing. And Sweet Baby Jeebus laff I did, until my tears fell like rain.

Cinema Uprising Copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Keeping Four Wheels on the Road at High Speed

By Steve Evans

I love learning new bits of film history. I live for it. Better than birthdays and Christmas. So I was reading about the short career of James Dean, which got me to thinking about the guy’s death 63 years ago, which led to the discovery that on his fatal drive in that Porsche Spyder he was the lead car in a caravan of friends heading to a race track. About two minutes behind him was Dean’s racecar-driving mentor, an occasional actor named Bill Hickman, who arrived at the crash scene in time for Dean to expel his final breath of air in Hickman’s face. By his own account, Hickman was so haunted he didn’t sleep for five days.

I didn't know that story until today, but I instantly recognized the name Hickman. His destiny was to become a legendary movie stunt driver. Steve McQueen chased him all over San Francisco in Bullitt (1968). Hickman did the high-speed driving for Gene Hackman in The French Connection ('71) and outran Roy Scheider in The Seven-Ups ('73), a little-seen thriller with an incredible car chase as its centerpiece. Hickman drove real cars down real roads, barreling along at speeds well in excess of 100 mph. No computer enhancements or image manipulation. One slip of the steering wheel and he coulda ended up like his pal Dean. Some of us like living on the edge. Hickman took it over the edge and came back to show us the real deal.

Hickman died of cancer in 1986. He was 65. French Connection director William Friedkin called him the greatest driver in the history of cinema. That’s Hickman in the photo below, at right, with Dean lighting a cigarette at left. I'm not sure about the guy hunched over the fateful Porsche. Could be Sal Mineo, Dean's co-star in Rebel Without a Cause. Mineo was murdered in a botched robbery in 1976, but that's another Hollywood story for another day.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Play Misty for Me at 47

By Steve Evans

Big Clint Eastwood's directorial debut, the moody thriller Play Misty for Me, was released OTD in 1971. Somewhat dated in tone, Misty explores romantic obsession and a woman's psychotic breakdown as the lover who spurns her, then comes under violent attack, struggles to evaluate his increasingly dwindling options.

I've visited many of the locations where Misty was filmed in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a lovely town where Eastwood was briefly mayor. You can walk the length of Carmel in 15 minutes. Its scenic beauty is the equal of any spot along the Pacific coast. The bohemians on the beach create the most elaborate sand sculptures I've seen. Come high tide, they're gone. The beach bums return the next morning and start all over again, hoping the curious might give them a few dollars. Such is the ephemeral nature of their art.
Misty was essentially remade in 1987 as Fatal Attraction, with a few yuppie twists to update the material. Eastwood's film stands out for its spot-on use of jazz on the soundtrack. For this reason and as a curio of Eastwood's early cinematic style Play Misty is recommended viewing.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Check Your Baggage for Destination Wedding

By Steve Evans
Destination Wedding, an experimental film now available on Video on Demand, is the best rom-com of the last 40 years. I mean this most sincerely; no hyperbole. It has an essential edginess that eluded Sideways, which had been the genre's gold standard since 2004, and before that, Annie Hall from 1977.

Sharp, acerbic, jet-black and cynical, Destination Wedding will appeal to anyone who has ever pulled out of a relationship and wondered: how the fuck did I ever get into that? But moving forward, it also poses that eternal challenge: why not try this thing called love again? Two terrific stars, Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, who have the only dialog in the film (toldja it was experimental). They play hugely unlikable characters thrown together under standard rom-com tropes that director Victor Levin turns upside-down. Imagine a farcical romance written by David Mamet.

I laffed. I cried. I damn-near died. This is a great movie.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.