I’ve decided to take a new approach to this challenge and not blog about every movie right after I see it. I obsess too much about my blog posts, to the point where it may be detrimental to my writing and sanity, so instead I will attempt to write weekly recaps about my movie adventures.
My decision is also based on the fact that I need to spend more time watching movies and get caught up in this race. It hasn’t worked so far, but I think it will help on the weekends when I am watching four or five movies and won’t need to pause to express my critical non-genius on the Internet.
This week in watching ended up being largely focused on films with a connection to music, including Presenting Princess Shaw, Saturday Night Fever, Born to Be Blue and the most classic of them all Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
I missed the opportunity to see the director’s cut of Walk Hard Sunday when my manager screened it at the theater, the trouble being it was at midnight and I was movied-out that day (I wish that wasn’t a thing.) I just rented it on Netflix, the non-director’s cut, but definitely could deal with another hour or so of Dewey Cox this year when I have the time. I did fulfill my original plan for Sunday to watch Born to Be Blue and Walk Hard as a double feature and, while one is a strict biopic drama and the other is a complete farce, they are both brilliant and a perfect pairing.
I thought Born to Be Blue might be my new Whiplash (which I saw three times in the theater) this year and it did have the same effect of completely taking me into the story of the characters and the music. If I had the time, I know could watch Born to Be Blue over and over.
Born to Be Blue is a true story, depicting Chet Baker in his 40s and later in his career, with Ethan Hawke completely transforming into his character and persona. I didn’t even know I was watching him on screen most of the time, that’s how good he is in this film. Born to Be Blue is clearly a passion project for Hawke and director and writer Robert Budreau. Hawke even wanted to play Baker in a movie by Richard Linklater 20 years ago, but the project didn’t get off the ground. Hawke, in a Village Voice interview, said he’s felt like he’s been thinking about playing Baker in a movie for 20 years. That explains, perhaps, how he completely embodies Baker on screen. I didn’t even know much about Baker in real life but felt the opposite immediately upon seeing Hawke with trumpet in hand and crooning at Birdland in New York City. Hawke performs with a stylistically beautiful film in his background, juggling between color and black and white and different moments in Baker’s later life after he loses his front teeth and has to find a way to play the trumpet again. It seems he was happy in the end, but there was always a looming tone of sadness and heartbreak throughout the film — fitting with the final line by Hawke “Born to Be Blue.” (It doesn’t have spoilers, really, but after you see this film I definitely recommend listening to Hawke’s interview with Marc Maron on WTF.)
Whether you need some cheering up after Born to Be Blue or not, a good follow up is Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. It presents the perfect parody of music biopics without being too silly and the comedic writing (Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan- also the director) was top-notch in my book. It mostly follows a similar story to that of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line but crosses over with applicable themes that are in most biopics: tragedy , addiction, death, career ups-and-downs, love and of course rising above challenges. Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly), the oldest looking 14-year-old ever, has a quick rise in his career even though he has no sense of smell and goes on spiral that every young pop star with a hit like “Take My Hand” is expected to have. Walk Hard hits all the right notes (sorry had to say it) and has so many good cameos, the scene with The Beatles has to be my favorite, and shows Reilly’s continued comedic genius alongside a cast of Jenna Fischer, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, Matt Besser, Chris Parnell and so many other Saturday Night Live and improv comedy stars.
To conclude, okay I am nowhere near being done, I also watched Saturday Night Fever (a 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die recommendation) with John Travolta. I was mostly surprised about how dark the film is. It’s more a coming-of-age story about family and friendship with the 1970s Brooklyn disco scene in the background than an exploration of that era and dancing than I thought it was.
Travolta (Tony) spends his days at a paint store and nights at the disco club breaking in his platforms and bell bottoms until he realizes he really wants to dance all the time. He switches his days to the studio practicing with an older woman, Stephanie, to enter a disco competition. Tony smokes while dancing and is always in his skin tight silk shirt and bell bottoms while Stephanie is ready to work in the most uncomfortable-looking leotard. Those moments focus on the dance and bring you into the 1970s, but the film really is more about the characters at transitional moments in their lives they release through breaking out their boogie shoes until it all becomes too much. Gosh that does sound really dark, but it just is that type of film.All-in-all Saturday Night Fever somehow successfully bridges the gap between exploring a significant era in pop culture history and delivering a character-driven drama.
While it’s a documentary that may never have the fame of Saturday Night Fever, Presenting Princess Shaw could be known in that way years from now. I saw the film during the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Festival this week followed by a Q&A and after party with Princess Shaw herself.
Princess Shaw, aka Samantha, grew up in Chicago with a rough childhood and moved to New Orleans as an adult. There she works with patients in nursing home, often singing to them, and at home makes YouTube videos of her songs. Across the world in Israel, Kutiman explores YouTube for musician’s work to make “mashups” between instrumentation and vocals. He comes across Princess Shaw’s work, including one video where she says she is looking for a beat to go with it, and the rest is history. It’s not so much about a “YouTuber” being discovered as it is a connection between two kindred spirits across the world and how success can come in unexpected ways to the most deserving people like Samantha. She graciously answered the audience’s questions after the film and it is evident she just wants to make her music, live her life and doesn’t expect any fame from it. I learned more about that listening to her talk at the after party. My friend and I sat at a big open table only to be bombarded by board members from MSPIFF and I was one seat away from Samantha. She is humble and again gracious in answering the board member’s questions, mostly about what YouTube is and if the story about how she and Kutiman found each other was authentic or “reenacted.” It was a little uncomfortable for me (mostly because of my self-diagnosed mid-30s social anxiety and awkwardness) as more and more board members crowded our table and I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise when I wanted to ask Samantha a question. BUT when they calmed down a bit and took a break to complain about the deejay being too loud I did ask her what her favorite movie is. The answer: Zombieland because of Bill Murray’s cameo role.
I like that. A lot.
It was a honor to be in the presence of Princess Shaw’s music royalty this week, even though she probably wouldn’t describe it that way, she is really a star in life and I admire her. The film will be out soon on Amazon, iTunes and the like and you must see it.
Okay folks, that is all. I did obsess about this blog quite a bit but once a week should be manageable.
“I think a healthy dose of doubt makes you better.”