Real - A Totally 80s Documentary
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to venture into the untamed world of non-fiction film again, folks.
This time out, both movies are about roughly the same time period,
the early-to-mid 1980s. But the scenes they cover are night-and-day
different, proving there was a lot more to the 80s than valley girls
2006 (2007) - Sony Pictures Classics
It seems like there's been quite a few movies documenting the
punk scene lately, from overviews like Punk:
Attitude to films focusing on specific bands like
The Filth and the Fury.
I'm at a loss to explain this sudden interest. It's as if the
participants in these films (and you do often see a lot of the
same faces in them) suddenly woke up, surprised to still be
alive and felt compelled to get their memories of the era
documented before they forgot everything. American
Hardcore, a recent documentary directed by Paul
Rachman, is superior to some of the other films of its type that
try to cram too much into a short time. But, like most
overviews, it still leaves one wanting more.
problem with most docs that try to cover the punk scene is the
substantial difference between the UK punks and their American
counterparts. Like its title suggests, American
Hardcore by and large ignores British bands like the Sex
Pistols, except to give a nodding reference to their influence and,
more importantly, to show how the American punks tried to
distinguish themselves from what was happening overseas. The movie
also does a good job differentiating between the scenes in different
cities, showing how the L.A. punks, for instance, influenced what
was happening in D.C., which in turn influenced Boston and on and
on. It paints a picture of an underground network of bands,
promoters and roadies with all the rivalries and alliances such an
organization would generate.
Rachman and author Steven Blush (whose book inspired the film)
interview dozens of punk veterans, punctuated by great photographs
and footage of bands like Bad Brains, Black Flag and SSD. The
aggression and energy of the music is matched by the design work of
John Vondracek. The interviewees, including Ian MacKaye of Minor
Threat, Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L. and the ubiquitous Henry Rollins,
are by and large great storytellers, providing some terrific
anecdotes and insight into not only how the punk movement formed and
was spread but why it flamed out so quickly.
Even if you hate punk rock, you'll come away from this admiring
these guys (and yes, while there are a handful of women here, it's a
mostly male lineup). The punk movement is one of the few in modern
music to have erupted spontaneously for nothing more than the joy of
doing it. Certainly none of these guys harbored any illusions that
they'd get rich playing this kind of music. This is rare in any
field and all but unheard of in the music industry.
Naturally there are some gaps here but that's to be expected in any
movie that tries to cover this much ground. True hardcore fans will
argue for hours about the bands that were left out. You could also
argue that the movie ends too definitively, with pretty much
everyone agreeing that by 1986, punk was dead. This may or may not
be true. Certainly its influence lived on. What's important is that
for the people profiled in this film, it was true. It was over and
anything that came afterward had nothing to do with what they were
Sony's DVD of American Hardcore
is pretty spiffy for a standard issue disc. The video and audio
qualities are as good as possible, considering how much of the film
is made up of footage shot in the 80s on consumer-grade video and
Super 8 with in-camera sound. Extras include 50 minutes of deleted
scenes, a brief featurette called In The
Pit spotlighting the photography of Ed Colver, and, best
of all, six complete musical performances excerpted in the film.
Sure, the songs are lightning-fast but it's terrific to see footage
of Jerry's Kids, YDI, Void, SSD, Bad Brains and Millions of Dead
Cops in all their original camcordery glory. There's also footage of
DOA and the Circle Jerks playing at the Sundance premiere party.
They're still great but nowhere is the difference between then and
now more obvious. Instead of the band's spray-painted name, the back
wall of the stage is covered by a banner for corporate sponsor Vans.
How punk. Finally, Rachman and Blush contribute a less-than-inspired
audio commentary, mostly of interest if you want to know where they
shot their interviews although they do touch on why bands like the
Misfits and the Dead Kennedys were left out.
As an introduction or a refresher course in punk history, American
Hardcore does its job with style and energy. Docs on
specific bands obviously can go into more detail and there's still
room to explore the subject by focusing on individual cities and
their unique styles. American Hardcore,
on the other hand, casts its net wider and helps connect the dots on
Program Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B
2006 (2007) - Magnolia
Last year, Michael Mann brought his seminal TV series Miami
Vice to the big screen. By updating it and giving it
the same sheen as Collateral
and Heat, Mann hoped to
turn his day-glo TV show into a gritty, realistic action-drama
for today. He needn't have bothered. Director Billy Corben beat
him to it with Cocaine Cowboys,
a stylish and fast-paced documentary that tells the real story
of Miami in the 1980s.
Given remarkable access to crime scene photos, mug shots and
the players themselves, Corben mashes everything together to
paint a picture of excess and violence. We first meet coke
dealer Jon Roberts and self-described "importer"
Mickey Munday. Both of these characters detail the business end
of the coke trade, telling us how it was done and why they were
able to get away with it for so long.
we enter the supply side, meeting hitman Jorge "Rivi"
Ayala. Rivi, who is interviewed from the prison where he'll
presumably be spending the rest of his life, remains a charismatic
figure. His descriptions of the vicious murders he helped carry out
on the orders of "Godmother" Griselda Blanco are chilling
in their matter-of-fact, no-regrets tone. Corben interviews the good
guys too, including retired homicide detective Al Singleton and
reporters Edna Buchanan and Al Sunshine. Their comments are welcome
but the meat of the story comes straight from the horse's mouth.
The hyperactive style of Cocaine Cowboys
almost makes this a documentary for people who hate documentaries.
The flip side of this, of course, is that if you love them, you
might hate this, accusing it of all flash and no fire. There might
be some truth to that but the style is dictated by the story being
told. Nothing's worse than a doc that takes an exciting story and
renders it lifeless. If nothing else, Cocaine
Cowboys certainly can't be accused of that. Propelled by
a driving score by Jan Hammer, Mr. Miami
Vice himself, you'll be amazed at how quickly Cocaine
Cowboys' nearly two hour running time flies by.
Magnolia has done a nice job with this disc, giving it a decent
anamorphic transfer and a 5.1 audio track. The extras are almost as
compelling as the film, starting with a 15-minute mini-movie called
Hustlin' with the Godmother: The Charles
Cosby Story, a bizarre coda to the already strange story
of Griselda Blanco. Fourteen deleted scenes are included with more
details about Mickey Munday's drug trafficking operations, Rivi's
hits, and amusing but non-essential stories. Finally Corben and
co-producer/co-editor David Cypkin provide commentaries on the film
and all the extras. Their voice-overs are nearly as fast-paced as
the movie itself.
I'll admit I knew next to nothing about this subject before
watching Cocaine Cowboys and
that may be the best way to approach the film. If you're already
familiar with what was happening in Miami back then, this may be old
news that doesn't tell you anything you didn't already know. Even
so, it tells it well, making Cocaine
Cowboys a blast for lovers of true crime sagas.
Program Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B
Bad news travels fast they say and these days, it moves quicker
than ever. Last week, I was sitting at my computer and saw a news
story on Yahoo with the headline "Anna Nicole Smith rushed to
Florida hospital after collapse". I clicked on it and by the
time the new page finished loading, it had changed to "Anna
Nicole Smith dies".
Anna Nicole Smith, model, Playboy Playmate and reality TV star, was
something of a national joke for a number of years. Between her
tabloid appearances and her outlandish public persona, stoked in no
small part by The Anna Nicole Show
on E!, she was, too put it kindly, an easy target. But it was a joke
that she seemed to be in on. Certainly she must have known that
eyebrows would be raised when she married an oil tycoon over fifty
years her senior. Or perhaps she didn't. Maybe she really was as naïve
as she often appeared on television. Either way, she clearly had a
sense of humor about herself and her image and this is not a
character trait to be dismissed lightly.
Anna Nicole had a film career as well, though it might charitably
be referred to as "checkered". Most forget that her movie
debut was in the Coen brothers' 1994 screwball comedy The
Hudsucker Proxy. That was followed by a larger role in
The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.
One of her few leading roles was as a helicopter pilot in the
direct-to-video erotic action thriller Skyscraper,
a Die Hard clone with Anna
Nicole in the Bruce Willis role. It's basically what you might
expect from a film with that description.
My wife worked with Anna Nicole Smith on a movie called Wasabi
Tuna a few years back. The impression I got from the
on-set stories I heard was that she was a sweet, intelligent woman
fully aware and in control of the image she was projecting to the
world. Unfortunately, her life story always had an air of sadness to
it. From the legal battles over her late husband's estate to the
sudden death of her son just days after the birth of her baby
daughter, it often seemed as if she just couldn't catch a break. Now
her story has ended at a young age, just as it did with Marilyn
Monroe, someone she clearly idolized. Without Anna Nicole Smith,
somehow the world now seems a little less voluptuous.
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