In Your Queue: Stick the Landing (“Bones Brigade: An Autobiography”, “Waiting for Lightning”)

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The history of skateboarding from Del Mar in the 1980s through the current day X-Games are examined in two new documentaries, Bones Brigade: An Autobiography by Stacy Peralta (now streaming on Netflix) and Waiting For Lightning by Jacob Rosenberg (also streaming on Netflix). Their key players – Tony Hawk for Bones Brigade and Danny Way for Waiting for Lightning – might ride the same piece of wood up and down (and over) the same half pipes for the same fans, but how and why they got there is another story, a compelling work of comparative storytelling when viewed side-by-side.

It all looks so simple in the video game, where gravity is a vague notion and falling off a rooftop doesn’t hurt, but for Hawk and Way nothing came easy. Hawk’s is a classic story of needing to prove himself to the older guys, like Duane Peters, who looked down on him at the skatepark. Way dove headfirst into skating to block out the pain of death – of his father, of his stepfather and of his father figure in skate world, Mike Ternasky – that has pervaded his life. Harder, faster and, ultimately, higher, Way turned a career of simple skate tricks into something closer to the career of a stuntman with tricks like jumping into a half pipe from a hovering helicopter, jumping over the Great Wall of China and, maybe most impressively, turning Big Air into an art form1, almost dying many times in the process2.

While Waiting for Lightning is a more straight forward documentary that focuses specifically on Way, Bones Brigade: An Autobiography has a wider reach that covers the whole Brones Brigade skate team, who brought a new dimension to skating with their diary-style home videos in the 80s. What used to be still life became motion picture with those videos, and had even more kids around the country shaking their head and asking, “how?” Bones Brigade is told in a similar in style to Dogtown and Z-Boys3, only about 10 years on with a new crop of skaters, like Hawk, Rodney Mullen and Steve Caballero, who were even better than the Z-Boys’ Peralta, Tony Alva and Jay Adams. I’m not sure where Peralta goes next, having covered everything about the skate and surf scene he lived through, but if he can find another niche to document, I’m in.


  1. Along with fellow psychopath, Bob Burnquist 

  2. As can be seen in “X-Games” the movie. 

  3. Which Peralta also directed 

Harold Lloyd: The Other, Other Guy

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Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd. Or, if you prefer: Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd.

The order changes depending on the person you ask1. Some prefer the graceful stunts of Chaplin’s sweet-natured Tramp, a self-sacrificing vagabond who buys his way into your heart with a squint of doe eyes. Some prefer the stone-faced earnestness of Keaton, whose grand, sweeping stunts were as dangerous as they were brilliant. The one thing no one ever argues about is third place. It’s Harold Lloyd.

Even Lloyd fans have a difficult time arguing the point, but there is degree: is it a close third or third by a longshot? Again, it depends who you ask.

That part of the conversation is likely to ramp up in the coming weeks, as Turner Classic Movies airs a 10 hour Lloyd retrospective marathon tonight, and the Criterion Collection releases Safety Last! (aka the one where he hangs from the clock) on DVD and Bluray on June 18th. The marathon features 16 short subjects and four features, and kicks off with Safety Last! at 8pm.

That scene of Lloyd hanging from the clock, dangling over 1920s Los Angeles is one of the most enduring images in film history, and was paid homage in later films like Back to the Future and Hugo. Like the image of Justus D. Barnes firing blanks directly into the camera in the The Great Train Robbery (which itself was paid homage to in Goodfellas), the image of Lloyd hanging from the clock face is more famous than Lloyd himself, and the only thing many people know about him.

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  1. It’s Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd for me 

In Your Queue: Cannes Edition (“The Conversation”, “The Panic in Needle Park”, “Punch-Drunk Love”)

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Year in and year out, Cannes, a small city on the French Riviera, becomes the biggest tease on the film calendar. The stars and the parties are grand spectacles, sure, but it’s the movies that really matter. Despite the hype that immediately builds up around them as each screening happens, it’s months before we get our first glimpse of any of the films here. The best we can do while Steven Spielberg and his jury pick a new winner is dig back through Cannes history and relive past winners.

There are winners in life and then there is this: Francis Ford Coppola put out two films in 1974; one of them, The Conversation (now streaming on Netflix), won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Best Picture, and the other one was The Godfather Part II, which won Best Picture at the Oscars. A cold psychological thriller, The Conversation taps right into the paranoia, secrecy and guilt that drove media in much of the 1970s. It stars Gene Hackman as Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who begins to struggle with the ethics of his work after recording a couple having a cryptic conversation in the park. The deeper he gets into the recording, the more he fears for their safety if he hands over the tape to the men who commissioned him (played by Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall). Hackman plays Caul as reserved and introverted, a particularly careful man who maybe is a little too trusting once his guard is down – basically the opposite of Popeye Doyle.

Kitty Winn won Best Actress at Cannes in 1971 for playing Helen, an innocent girl from the Midwest who comes to New York and ends up a junkie, in The Panic in Needle Park (streaming on Netflix). Co-written by husband-and-wife duo Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, and starring the then little-known Al Pacino as the charismatic hustler Bobby, Panic is a stark, withering account of drug use that remains just as relevant 40 years later. Though she starts out straight, curiosity finally gets the best of Helen and she sneaks a hit while Bobby is out cold. There is a devastating moment later in the movie as they walk the streets together. He cradles her face and sees the drugs in her eyes. “When did that happen?” he asks sadly, but she can’t answer. The line may be Pacino’s but the scene’s disquieting heartbreak is all Winn’s.

We saw a completely new side of funny man Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (streaming on Netflix), for which Paul Thomas Anderson won Best Director at Cannes in 2002. As Barry Egan, Sandler is still essentially playing a man-child looking for love, but differently than we’re used to. In one of the best fan theories ever floated, the film is viewed through the prism that Lena (Emily Watson), the object of Barry’s affection, is actually an alien seeking love. The clues seem to fit and to wade so freely into Barry’s supreme weirdness, she’d almost have to be.

In Your Queue: Undersung Music Films (“This Must Be the Place”, “Fish Story”, “The Swell Season”)

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This Must Be the Place (directed by Paolo Sorrentino; streaming on Netflix, Amazon) Taken at a glance, it’s not a surprise that This Must Be the Place never found an audience. It’s a dark indie comedy that stars Sean Penn as Cheyenne, an aging goth rocker who owned the ’80s but has since given up music because of a personal tragedy. The film takes a strange turn when Cheyenne adopts his dead father’s lifelong mission to find the Auschwitz guard who humiliated him during the war. Despite an almost painfully slow first act, Penn chips away at you with his total inhabitation of Cheyenne and eventually wins you over with the coyness of his deadpan delivery. There is a lot of power and wisdom behind that timid voice once it seeps in – you just have to let it in.

Fish Story (directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura; streaming on Netflix) A song can save the world, right? When people say that, they usually mean something a little more spiritual, something about human connections made over a piece of lyric or the swell of a orchestra that keeps you sane or even alive. They usually don’t mean it did so through a convoluted chain of events that unfurls over the span of 50 years. This movie attempts to spin a tale about a 1975 punk song with a minute-long gap of conspiracy-laden silence spliced into the middle ends up saving the world – literally – by stopping a comet from destroying the Earth in 2012. Nakamura weaves a delicious comic tale that isn’t so far-fetched, riffing off Armageddon, The Karate Kid and doomsday cults along the way.

The Swell Season (directed by Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, Carlo Mirabella-Davis; streaming on Netflix, Amazon) The end result of the 2007 Irish indie film Once – aside from the critical acclaim, album sales, sold-out concerts, a Broadway musical and an Oscar – was that its stars, folk-rock duo Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, were introduced to a wider audience and cast into the public spotlight. They were a fairy-tale couple whose dreams came true, and the world was that much better just because they existed. But all dreams exist in an untenable state, and the bitter wakeup eventually comes. As a documentary crew follows them as they’re on tour to promote Once, the cracks in Hansard and Irglova’s relationship are revealed. It’s not the film that the crew set out to capture, but it’s a heartbreaking and fascinating experience to watch this couple crumble under the weight of fame, success and expectation.

From Up on Poppy Hill – Goro Miyzaki (2013)

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From Up on Poppy Hill, a high school melodrama set right before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, is somewhat of a departure from the norm for Studio Ghibli. There are no flying pigs, wolf girls or floating cities. Instead, there is young love – and only young love.

Umi and Shun (voiced by Sarah Bolger and Anton Yeltin in this dubbed version from GKids) are classmates with an affinity for one another, but nerves and family expectations keep them at an arm’s length, leaving them together only when there is a project to be done, like printing the school paper or helping Shun and his buddies save their filthy clubhouse from the wrecking ball.

There is one other thing that keeps them at an emotional distance: they might actually be brother and sister, a family torn apart during the post-war social upheaval.

That’s a storyline worthy of General Hospital, sure, but Goro Miyazaki doesn’t take the dark melodrama track with his second film for his father’s studio. It’s a sweet film, almost an idealized film of youth and zeitgeist. With the coming of the Olympics and student activism, it’s a time of change in Japan that is even affecting this small coastal province outside of Tokyo.

Umi is a model of tradition, running her grandmother’s boarding house and raising her younger sister Sora (The Hunger Games’ Isabelle Fuhrman) and brother (Alex Wolff) when she isn’t at school. Shun is somewhat stuck in the middle of tradition and revolution, a new kind of activist fighting against the higher ups in order to keep a dusty old clubhouse from being modernized. The analogies and metaphor might come from the manga that the film is based on, but the soft, measured feel of youth seems to come directly from Hayao Miyazaki’s memory, more like reminiscence than anything else.

I do feel a little badly for Goro Miyazaki though, being stuck with that name and forever living under the eclipsing shadow of his legendary father. If he were Goro Suzuki, say, he might be regarded better, a good director but not a great director; at least he would be regarded without a qualifier. The famous last name might not come with all of the famous father’s talent, but he’s surely got enough of it to consider him on his own when his next film comes out.

In Your Queue: The Amy Seimetz Triple Threat (“Upstream Color”, “Sun Don’t Shine”, “Silver Bullets”)

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It’s going to be a big year for Amy Seimetz. The multi-hyphenate St. Pete native will spend the summer trying to stay alive on season three of AMC’s crime drama The Killing, and later this year can be found as a recurring character on the Christopher Guest-created Family Tree on HBO. It’s a big break for someone who has toiled in indie films for so long without a breakout, but it’s those indie films that kick off her big year, and three new releases she has a role in can be found on VOD this month.

In Upstream Color (Amazon, OnDemand), Shane Carruth’s long overdue follow-up to the time travel mindbender Primer, Seimetz plays Kris, a young film producer whose life is upended when she is victimized by a highly sophisticated type of fraud, sort of a walking biological hypnosis that her brain has no defense against. She signs away her life to a thief, but doesn’t remember it upon awaking. Carruth plays Jeff, a man with his own mysterious past who is drawn to her, though he doesn’t quite know why.

In a film that will leave you guessing and then constantly changing your guesses with each new piece of information, that curious magnetism stands out as the central question. It’s the easiest to answer, and maybe that solidity makes it the most satisfying part.

Films like Upstream Color can frustrate more than they entertain if the mystery isn’t perfectly drawn out and conceived, but Carruth uses his experience as an engineer to his advantage to craft a puzzle of exceeding quality that will have you going back to watch it over again and pick apart everything you missed.

Written and directed by Seimetz, Sun Don’t Shine (Amazon, OnDemand) is a frantic and paranoid road movie that finds a pair of lovers, Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley), trekking from Tampa to the Everglades. It was IndieWire’s pick for Best Undistributed Film after a big debut at SXSW 2012.

Crystal and Leo, though, barely seem be lovers at all through their constant sniping and fighting. Most of the tension is because there’s actually a third passenger along for the ride: Crystal’s husband, who is in the trunk, dead after a vicious fight didn’t go the way he planned. Dead husband aside, the film is an engrossing examination of Crystal’s mental state, which runs up and down the entire spectrum throughout the film. Sheil is electric to watch in a performance that’s powerful and nuanced as she struggles to control her anger, flitting back and forth between a madwoman and graceful child.

It was actually on the set of Joe Swanberg’s Silver Bullets (Amazon, iTunes) that Seimetz and Sheil met before teaming up for Sun Don’t Shine. They play best friends, both actors, in this ultra-low-budget short feature about Claire (Sheil), a budding starlet, and the jealousy that slowly builds up when her boyfriend Ethan (Swanberg) casts Charlie (Seimetz) to replace her in one of his films, eventually drawing a dark revenge fantasy out of Claire.

Though Seimetz ends up mostly wasted here, stuck playing more of a catalyst for Claire and Ethan to have it out than a living, breathing character of her own, Sheil is exciting to watch once again as she turns the struggle with sanity into an essay.

Danny Boyle’s Needless Worry

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In an interview with Vodkaster last week, Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle lamented the “family-friendly Pixarification” of the mainstream cinema, foreseeing a future cinema that that features less violence, less sex and less brainpower — films so very unlike the hardnosed British films of his punk rock youth.

In the interview, he specifically cites the films of Nicolas Roeg, a British director who lit the 70s up with four exceptionally strong films in PerformanceWalkabout, Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth, but one would also imagine he meant films like Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Tony Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Ken Loach’s Kes and Lindsay Anderson’s if…., amongst others.

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It’s a provocative quote when taken out of context, especially as we wade into the summer blockbuster season by throwing money freely to Disney for Iron Man 3, but I wonder, too, if Boyle isn’t cherry picking the past a little bit? Like a lot of people, he pinpoints the divergence at Star Wars, even though he’s come to enjoy the films as he’s gotten older — and actually watched them. Weren’t there bad films pre-Star Wars? There were tons, of course, even during the 70s. They just weren’t memorable, so the frame of reference shrinks thinking back on the time. It’s a natural tendency, and I do it all the time with the late 80s/early 90s of my youth, and then I randomly remember Cool as Ice and think, “Oh. Right.”

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In Your Queue: “To the Wonder”, “Gimme the Loot”

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To The Wonder – Terrence Malick (2013)

It’s usually unfair to hold directors up to their past work, especially when that work is particularly great or terrible. Terrence Malick has almost always lived up to that kind of scrutiny, and when he hasn’t, he hasn’t missed by much. But with To the Wonder, Malick has delivered the first film that you might call routine.

The signature floating visual poem is here once again, and it guides us through the coming together and falling apart of Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko), an American-French couple who leave the daydream beauty of Paris to settle in rural Oklahoma for his oil-field job. To the Wonder lacks the grand central ideas that have marked Malick’s films in the past – there is no war, no murder, no running from the law, no creation of life; it’s simply a love story with overtones of loneliness, alienation and emptiness. It works on that level, but with less natural efficiency than we’re used to. It’s a beautiful film, of course it is, but there is some assembly required to get to its aloof center.

Gimme the Loot – Adam Leon (2013)

Bomb the apple. A phrase like that sounds so sinister now, but 20 years ago, it’s all any tagger in New York wanted to do. They hoped to catch fame by getting their name on the Mets’ home-run apple. It’s been impossible ever since the idea was posed, but it seems like cake for Malcolm and Sophia (Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington), two kids from the Bronx who want to be the biggest writers in the city but can’t get past a couple of white kids from Queens who keep wrecking their pieces. Twenty years of failure isn’t going to stop them, but the $500 they need to bribe a guard to get in might.

The apple exists as both a legend and a joke in New York, encapsulating the Mets’ position as lovable losers, and that team reputation runs as a direct parallel to that of Malcolm and Sophia, lovable losers who seem like they’ll never make it when their schemes to get the money turn toward ripping off Ginnie (Zoë Lescaze), a rich white girl Malcolm has a crush on. The charm of Hickson and Washington makes the film a success, though. There is an amiable Charlie Brown-and-Peppermint Patty quality to them as they run around the city fighting and bickering. They’re so close that the worst insults they hurl at one another roll off their backs, and their likability keeps you squarely on their side throughout the film.