In Your Queue: Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock (“A Band Called Death”, “The Other F Word”, “Sound City”)


A Band Called Death – Mark Christopher Covino, Jeff Howlett

Though the story is not quite as fantastic and strange as the other long-missing Detroit musician, Sixto Rodriquez (documented in Sugar Man), A Band Called death has its own sense of mystery and wonder. The band called Death were an all black proto-punk band formed in the early 70s in the mold of Iggy Pop, the MC5 and Alice Cooper. In that time, in their neighborhood, rock n’ roll was about the most rebellious thing a bunch of kids could do. And the Hackney brothers did it well. Their sound is a well manufactured mix of that pre-Ramones, pre-101 Club sound, but with a slightly harder edge to it, like the Stooges if they were led by Phil Lynott instead of Iggy. A Band Called Death’s religious overtones do stick out as being somewhat strange in a story about a punk band and it will likely rankle the non-religious audience, but it’s more of an incidental focus of the film. There were mystic coincidences that brought this story together. The Hackney brothers believe it was faith. I don’t think there is a God, but I do like to think that he would be a guardian of music if he existed, and that he would deliver bands that deserve to be heard to us.

The Other F Word – Andrea Blaugrund Nevins

When I was a kid, this is the side of punk rock I never thought I would see. Adulthood, fatherhood, sobriety, home ownership; it never even occurred to me. Punk rockers were supposed to be the true Earthly embodiment of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, never growing up, staying drunk and pissed off and young until an untimely drug overdose or something. Punk rockers are punk rockers because of having horrible parents, right? But it’s that fact that actually makes it make sense that they would end up being loving, good guy moms and dads. Still, it’s strange to see Fat Mike (NOFX) spoil his daughter; to see Lars Frederiksen (Rancid) scare the other parents away from the playground because of his tattoos and his hair. The film’s most interesting story though is ex-Pennywise singer Jim Lindbergh, who family life – wife, 3 daughters, dog – is becoming incompatible with his life in a punk band. His bandmates, in their 40s, really are the lost boys, but Jim has grown up. It’s kind of heartbreaking to see from a band perspective, but from an F Word perspective it would be heartbreaking if he stayed a lost boy forever.

SoundCity – Dave Grohl

This deviates slightly from the punk rock theme, though certainly the famous recording studio SoundCity has seen its share of punk rockers over the years. Bands like Fear, Bad Religion and Rancid have recorded there, but it’s most famous for being the studio that albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn the Torpedoes were recorded in. During its heyday, it was one of the most popular recording studios in the world – and then the digital revolution happened and suddenly people didn’t need it so much. The film’s main focus, aside from the bands, is the studio’s one-of-a-kind that was achieved at the studio. The sound came from two sources: the drum room and the soundboard. Grohl does well for his first film, filling the documentary with every famous name he could find in his rolodex, and one more still: Paul McCartney, who, in a weird way, took the place of Kurt Cobain in an odd little Nirvana reunion that is documented towards the end of the film. It could be argued that the film loses steam once it stops being about the recording studio and becomes about the Sound City jam sessions, but only an idiot would argue that. This documentary is must see if you are even casually a music fan.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – Terrence Nance (2013)

2013-10-04 16_06_36-Romance - An Oversimplification of Her Beauty - Trailer - YouTube

In a way, there is nothing concrete to find within the framework of Terrence Nance’s freefalling kaleidoscopic take on the inner workings of the (often stupid) male brain. Told in flurry of live action, hand drawn animation and stop motion animation, the film is a half art piece/half documentary soap bubble of complexities, encapsulating the emotions and, at times, self-sabotage a young man of a certain lovesick, melancholy demeanor goes through, or as is the case, puts himself through. In that way, though, it’s possibly the most intuitive, perceptive and maybe even informative film about the inner workings the male brain (especially the pettiness and unintentional selfishness that hold us back).

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (produced by Jay Z and Wyatt Cenac) is built around the foundation of a short film called How Would You Feel which Nance made to about a young lady (Namik Minter) that he liked, who maybe maybe liked him too. It’s a love letter of sorts, an attempt to add enough perspective to his feelings as to make her suitably impressed with their size and scope. The self-made trap is his own perspective though. She is not impressed with his film. It makes her uncomfortable, especially that he’s shown it to people. It’s not how she sees their relationship, which was from a completely different perspective, from different eyes, with different wants and needs. To him, she only existed within his context, as the focal point of his desire. To her, she exists within her own context, with her own desires. It’s hard to overcome that. Nance moves on and flirts with the idea of loving others as he travels around the world (Paris, NY, South Africa) while continuing to work on the film, but always comes back to Minter, who at times may or may not actually reciprocate his feelings. The timeline becomes fuzzy at a certain point and it’s hard to find the line where documentary ends and the art project begins, or whether maybe the whole thing is an art project. But if it is, if it’s not half documentary, I don’t want to know.

It’s got to be said, of course, that not everyone would care to see a film about why the male brain makes males do the unquestionably strange things we do. I can only say that the film hit me square in the chest with a weight equivalent to a sack full of bowling balls and left me staring dumbly in the dark at the TV after it concluded. In a way, maybe in a completely unintentional way, it exposes flaws in thought that most, if not all, males are guilty of. It’s emotional secret-telling in the same way Girls is emotional secret-telling. Nance doesn’t cut the emotion with baby laxatives and corn starch here; it’s pure, and that makes it sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes entertaining, sometimes maddening and sometimes enlightening.

Dear Film Critic: SeaWorld vs. “Blackfish”, a documentary about Tilikum the whale and the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau


Though it doesn’t open in Orlando until sometime in August (stay tuned for more coverage when the film comes out), the initial NY/LA release of Magnolia Pictures and CNN films’ Blackfish is coming this Friday, and buzz is beginning to build about the film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, which seeks to shed light on the problems of long term orca captivity.

The film — and the promotion of the film — is highly critical of SeaWorld in particular, and of the practice of sea mammal captivity for the purpose of entertainment in general, featuring interviews with more than a half-dozen former trainers from SeaWorld’s three parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio.

The film’s main focus is on Tilikum, the largest orca currently in captivity, who has been responsible — at least in part — for three deaths since being captured in the wild in the early 1980s. The latest came in 2010 (shortly after another trainer’s death in Loro Parque in Spain in 2009), when head trainer Dawn Brancheau was reportedly pulled underwater by her ponytail after a routine performance at Dine with Shamu in the Orlando park. (The real Shamu died in 1971, which is sort of like finding out that there is no Santa Claus.)

(This video cuts well before anything goes wrong.)

Due to the controversial nature of the film, SeaWorld Entertainment sent out an email to film critics over the weekend that alleges that the allegations made against them in the film are allegedly bogus. You can scroll to the bottom to read the email in its entirety, but in summary, the email warns to take the film as a “powerful, emotionally-moving” direct appeal in advocacy of orca rights but that the film shouldn’t be taken as fact, calling the film “shamefully dishonest”.

The email claims that claims in the film about SeaWorld’s practices — removing orcas from the wild, removing them from their family structure, bullying amongst captive orcas and whether or not the lifespan of a wild orca is significantly longer than a captive orca — are “deliberately misleading” and that what the film “presents as unvarnished reality is anything but.”

Continue reading…

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer – Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin (2013)


Because of its Special Jury Award for “Punk Spirit” at Sundance earlier this year, I held out high hopes for Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, a documentary focusing on the radical Russian feminist punk band before, during and after their arrest and trial in Moscow in 2012. The film turns out to be something of a let down though, less informative than most articles and blogs despite the insider access it enjoyed. It’s key moments boil down to the few minutes of footage of the band members in their courtroom cell talking about their predicament while an endless line of photographers are paraded by for a snapshot of the dangerous trio.

But the film lacks a rounded, well-researched throughline to unite the various thoughts the directors and its subjects put forward, ending up more a collection of images than a documentary of biting substance. The directors, Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, seemed to get sucked into the media and celebrity circus that surrounded the case and, like Occupy Wall Street, the ideals that were the driving forced behind the band (aka: the point of the band and the documentary) become lost in the din of shutter clicks and girls in balaclavas shouting into their webcams.

The film is anchored by the personalities of Nadia, Masha and Katya — the only three known members — but performs only a minor biography on them before settling in for an almost formal court procedural. Lerner and Pozdorovkin compare it to the Russian show trials of the 1930s, but they do it without any particular conviction, perhaps because the actual show trials ended in summary execution immediate after.

Are Nadia, Masha and Katya more important as individuals in a documentary than the ideas they’re fighting for? Should one take precedence over the other, or is one so firmly rooted in the other that they are inseparable from each other? That’s always the hardest thing to balance in a political documentary. Even though the argument could be made that the individuals don’t matter, we don’t tend to identify with an isolated idea as strongly as we do with people who have an idea. Like other issues in the film, the directors seem to run their toes along the middle ground, not making a firm choice one way or the other. My feeling is that in 5-10 years, someone is going to make a legitimately good documentary about this dreadful farce of a trial — one that should have ended in a fine and a stern lecture (to which the girls should have rolled their eyes at as proper punks) — but the wound is still too raw to make for a good picture right now.

Lou Reed’s Berlin – Julian Schnable (2008)


(My first ever film review)

There are few genuine musical happenings anymore. The world has evolved into the kind of interactive place where the musical happening should thrive, but instead it’s succumbed to the corporate clenched fist. Now, instead of Axl and Elton rocking a wet Wembley to bed with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the closest we get to an event is a demand for a public apology to the Jonas Brothers for ridiculing their purity rings.

Lou Reed pisses on that apology. In 2006, the rock pioneer dusted off Berlin, his 1973 rock opera album telling the story of Jim and Caroline, two strung-out lovers and their inevitable downward spiral, and brought it to the live masses with a small orchestra and choir. The Brooklyn concert, Reed’s first in a tour series, was documented by Academy Award–nominated director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), and the resulting film was recently released on DVD. It was a musical happening as pure as the driven snow, honest and without corporate hindrance, and it was done just because he felt like doing it.

“[The album] didn’t really get a chance for people to hear it,” Reed says about Berlin’s original release during a Q&A at New York City’s Film Forum in July. Coming off his first solo effort, 1972’s breakthroughTransformer, Reed should have been bulletproof. But Berlin, released the following year, was an unmitigated flop, critically and commercially failing to live up to the still-unflagging popularity of “Walk on the Wild Side,” a song musically dissimilar to his other work.

“It’s the other side of ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’?” Reed says. “It’s the real one. Maybe no one wanted to hear or see that. It was in the middle of glam rock and it was a dose of reality – a certain kind of reality.”

Thirty-five years later, Berlin is a cult classic. Reed’s voice isn’t as steady as it used to be, but he easily commands the stage.

“I’d performed a couple of the songs out of context [in past concerts], but the way it really works, for me anyway, is in context,” he says. “I always thought of it as a whole piece.”

Berlin is a concert film at first blush, but as it proceeds, it becomes something closer to the theatrical production Reed intended to produce in the early ’70s. Thanks to the loving orchestration of sequences shot by Lola Schnabel, we see the lives of Jim and Caroline and their struggles with drugs, abuse and suicide coming alive to the pace of the songs. The enchanting Emmanuelle Seigner (also of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) stars as Caroline, the heroine of heroin. The years it took for this project to be fully realized were well worth it in the end, as Berlin digs out a new spot in the conversation of best concert films.

The Doc is In: Ten 2012 Documentaries You Need to See


When it comes to documentaries, it’s nothing short of the Wild West out there. There are just so many, from theatrical to television to stuff that just shows up on Netflix or Hulu one day in your recommended list, and it’s so difficult to judge them by their posters or trailers because, honestly, most documentary posters look like a sixth grader fucking around in Photoshop. But unlike the Underrated Films lists I did last week, this is a little more straight forward: these are just the 10 best docs I’ve seen this year, and its a mix of all three categories.

As always, there were docs I didn’t get to see and wanted to — stuff like DetriopiaMea Maxima CulpaBrooklyn CastleHow to Survive a PlagueThis Is Not a Film and The Invisible War — just because there isn’t enough time in the day to watch everything I want to.

Likewise, there was stuff that I really enjoyed but didn’t carry enough weight, like Rory Kennedy’s Ethel, Stacy Peralta’s Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, NBA TV’s The Dream Team, Andrew Bird’s Fever Year and the digital vs film doc, Side by Side.

There was also a bit of a fatigue factor when it came to West Memphis Three documentaries — both Paradise Lost 3 and West of Memphis were good films, but very difficult to separate from one another and neither really addressed the issue I was most interested in outside of the murders, the story of the friendship at the time or now of the three released men. In West of Memphis, Jessie Misskelley’s father says Jessie was scared of Damien Echols, and there was a NY Times article a while ago about how none of the three speak to each other any longer, but it’s never really explored. (How can you not explore something like that?) West of Memphis was the closest to making my list of 10, but I backed out on it in the end.

All in all, it was a very good year for documentaries and they’re becoming much easier to get a hold of these days just between Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, giving us less excuse to put them off.

01) 5 Broken Cameras – Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi (Hulu+)
I’m not sure if I’ve ever had my preconceived notions of what a film would be more upset by the reality of the film than I did with 5 Broken Cameras. Even hearing great things about it, I went into it with trepidation, expecting a straight forward anti-Israel film, but instead found an existential horror film with a deep love at its core as the film’s narrator and co-director Emad Burnat tells the story of a small village on the border with Israel through the six cameras he’s managed to come by, five of which were broken during demonstrations by Israeli soldiers. It’s a story of family, of home, of theft, and, ultimately, and most startlingly, of abandonment.

02) Searching for Sugar Man – Malik Bendjelloul (Coming Soon)
It’s not hard to be skeptical about this documentary when you first start it. It plays a lot like Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, about the second best gutarist in the world, the one no one’s ever heard of — because he never existed. I hadn’t heard of Sixto Rodriquez, and it seems no one outside of his family, friends and the entirety of South Africa had. Is this a hoax, likeFargo’s “based on a true story” tagline? No, he’s real. But it’s not actually that hard to believe that a guy like Rodriquez could slip through the cracks. If you’ve ever been to a used record store and looked through the stacks at all of the weird, unheard of acts, you realize most musicians do fall through the cracks. The stranger part is how big a musician can be in one relatively small country, thousands of miles away from home. That he was is what makes this such an interesting piece though.

03a) Indie Game: The Movie – Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky (Netflix)
My idea of a great game never really evolved past NES, especially the classics like Tetris and Super Mario, but there is something so compelling about the process of creation, and the different types of personalities it takes to create a great video game. If Ebert is right in saying that video games can’t be art (who really cares if they are or not?), at the very least we can say the story of their creation can be art.

03b) The Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters – Adam Cornelius (Amazon Prime)
Speaking of Tetris… this is completely a personal bias pick on my part. There were punchier documentaries made this year, but not many of them were about something I love as much as Tetris, and especially the comeback story of Thor Aackerlund, who is perhaps the greatest Tetris player alive.

05) The Imposter – Bart Layton (Coming Soon)
The Imposter is as frustrating as it is riveting. It’s riveting for horrible reasons, because one mad Frenchman named Frederic Bourdin pulled off, for a short time anyway, such an astounding feat of outright fraud, and its impossible to look away from his deceitful, convincing eyes the entire time he’s on screen, especially the way Layton works the cutaway shots. It’s frustrating for an even more horrible reason: almost 20 years later and Nicholas Barclay still hasn’t been found.

06) Dreams of a Life – Carol Morley (Netflix, Hulu+)
One of the most common thoughts I have when I see a documentary is, “how could that have really happened?” But nothing in any documentary can really prepare you to confront the idea that a woman died in her apartment and no one noticed (or cared) for three years. No one. A quite attractive, popular girl, even. No one noticed. Fucking how? And because no one noticed, because she was just dust and bones by the time she was found, there really can never be a satisfactory conclusion to the question “how?”, but perhaps equal in horror is the doubt this film puts in your mind about whether anyone would notice if you just died on your couch one day.

07) The Interrupters – Steve James (Amazon Prime)
It’s hard to even know what to say about this story. It’s almost entirely heartbreaking but in some sense is also uplifting when the Violence Interrupters succeed in throwing their bodies in between the mostly youth related violence on the streets of Chicago, in neighborhoods that are eating themselves alive. But even the positive parts end up heartbreaking because of the one step forward, ten steps back nature of street violence.

08) Jiro Dreams of Sushi – David Gelb (Netflix)
I hate sushi. All seafood, really. Most of family is allergic to shellfish, so we never really had any kind of seafood growing up and its a food I never adapted to as a kid. I tried the Jeffrey Steingarten thing to just forget what I didn’t like and retry everything, but seafood didn’t make the cut (most things didn’t). So Jiro’s sushi would be wasted on me, but I could still sit there and watch he and his eldest son, Yoshikazu, make sushi all day long. Gelb frames the story so perfectly, it’s more of an artform in this light than food — I’d feel bad for eating it to be honest, like chewing a bite off of a Rothko.

09) The Queen of Versailles – Lauren Greenfield (Netflix)
Ah, our local celebrities in the documentary race this year. This is the film that wouldn’t die once it opened at the Enzian, playing for far too many weeks in a row, but it just kept hitting its holdover threshold. For me, the film doesn’t totally gel as a whole, even if it does serve as a great peek into the window of the working and machinations of the rich during our recession. It’s a very difficult family to feel any empathy or sympathy for, and hanging all of your emotions from the film on the nannies and left behind high school friends doesn’t quite stretch out for its hour forty running time, but there is undeniably something here worthwhile. Greenfield was in the right place at the right time, witnessing a somewhat modern Citizen Kane/W.R. Hurst story play out live in front of her cameras: the old man in his ridiculous castle with his aging trophy wife and money woes. This film will age gracefully (and without any plastic surgery), but the incident of the recession is still a little too near. In 20 years, econ students will probably have to watch this as a class requirement.

10) Knuckleball! – Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg (Amazon Prime)
One simple, impossible pitch has the power to make the world’s greatest hitters look like weekend beer league players. The pitch is so elusive that since the release of the film, half of the pitchers who could throw it have retired. When I say half, I only mean one, because only two pitchers could throw it: Boston’s Tim Wakefield, and the Mets’ R.A. Dickey, who has since been traded to Toronto, and is the last man throwing it (though surely high school kids all over the country are learning how to master it now). The mechanics of the pitch is an interesting story itself, but more interesting is the ornery personality of the men in the history of the game who have been able to succeed with it.

Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters – Adam Cornelius (2012)


I’m not sure if I’ve lost more waking hours or sleeping hours toTetris, but it’s a depressing number of each. A person can’t just casually play Tetris. A distant cousin of games like dominos andBreakout, at its slowest levels Tetris a perfectly simple game of creating lines for points.

At its highest speeds, Tetris is demonic and taunting, and if you’re not ready for the next speed boost you won’t last long. At its highest speeds, one simple mistake – one flick of the thumb too much, or not enough – and you’re done for. This trick, that it’s such an easy game, is where the obsession hides, deep in the coding. It should be as simple as counting to four with your thumbs. But when it comes to Tetris, the thumbs are incompetent slaves to the brain, and the brain is an incompetent slave to the will. Like most classic arcade games, it doesn’t have an ending, it just gets harder until you die.

But in the 1990s there was no one better at Tetris than a strange skinny kid from Texas named Thor Aackerlund. No one came closer to “beating” Tetris than he did. His thumbs actually were slaves to his brain, vibrating the d-pad more than pushing it, creating an incredible speed for sliding pieces left and right. Watching him play is a hard thing to reconcile with reality, that’s how agile his piece movement is.

Aackerlund, who finished in first place at the Nintendo World Championships in 1990, is the closest thing the game of Tetris has ever had to a grand champion.

But then he fell off the map.

In 2010, one of his competitors at the NWCs, Robin Mihara, set out to fix the record when it came to Tetris, calling together the country’s best players – as verified by the Twin Galaxies score board – for a winner take all tournament in Los Angeles.

Unlike King of Kong or Chasing GhostsEcstasy of Order doesn’t seek to find Aackerlund to mine his story for narrative gold. Though he seems to be something of a tragic figure in the small segments that do trace the broadstokes of his story, Adam Cornelius’ documentary is as obsessed with the game as its devoted fans are. It only seeks Aackerlund out because you cannot have a championship of Tetris without the man once regarded as the best.

Perhaps that’s a tragic flaw for the film. Perhaps Aackerlund’s life could have been mined and made for a better film, like Steve Weibe’s, but perhaps it’s also better this way. King of Kong was manipulated in ways that made for a great film, but for lousy reportage and I’ve always felt let down by that. Ecstasy of Order maintains its appeal in a more pure fashion: the viewer’s ownTetris demons. The tournament collects the best players in the world – Jonas Neubauer andHarry Hong, who have maxed out the high scores (999,999), and Ben Mullen, who held the record for high lines (296 – my own personal high is a paltry 191) – and shows their triumphs and failures in terms of the game itself. The best players in the world can be stumped by a longbar drought just like the rest of us. The best players in the world can drop a piece in the wrong place just like the rest of us. It keeps the allure of the game’s difficult simplicity alive as it asks the most tantalizing question: is there even a such thing as a Tetris Master?

Knuckleball! – Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg (2012)


Everything about the fundamental mechanics of baseball seems simple. Kids stuff. That’s when we come to it, as little kids hitting off a tee, or having a ball tossed softly to us in the park. There’s nothing to it. You rear back to throw. You kick as hard as you can to run. Extend your arms to swing. But as most of us know by now, as we sit at desk jobs or customer service counters, it ain’t simple at all.

In baseball, the thing that seems the most simple to perfect is the knucklball. You don’t even throw it, you dig your fingernails into ball and push it to the plate. It doesn’t matter if you can’t throw fast (in fact it helps not to), or if you’re not as athletic. The ball does all the work, not the pitcher. The knuckleball is, of course, the hardest pitch the perfect. In fact, there have been fewer than 100 full time major league hurlers who have thrown it down the years.

In 2011, when this documentary was filmed, there were two knuckleballers:Boston’s veteran righty, Tim Wakefield (44), and the Mets’ reclamation project, R.A. Dickey (36). Dickey’s age would seem worrying if he was any other type of pitcher, but unlike hard throwers, it gets better as your arm loses its velocity. Most can pitch into their 40s, like both Neikro brothers, Joe and Phil, who could still pitch when they retired, they just couldn’t field their positions anymore.

In factWakefieldand Dickey, both former-first round picks, were reclamation projects as knuckleballers.Wakefieldcame up withPittsburghin ’92 as a power hitting corner infielder after a big college career, but seemed lost at the plate with the switch from the aluminum bats in college to the wood bats of the bigs. It was chance that a minor league instructor saw him fooling around with the knuckler and he got to save his career, eventually playing 18 seasons. Dickey, after a great college career capped off with a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics, could never put it together in the majors with his normal arsenal of pitches. He bummed around the minors until he gave the knuckleball a try to make one last grab at saving his career in the Mets minor league system.

They might be underdogs, but watching the film you don’t ever get that sense from them. They are calm and professional, taking delight in how silly they can make the likes of Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter look with their simple 60 mile an hour pitch that dances its way to the plate. They say, in fact, they prefer to face the big swingers (who are used to quality breaking pitches and pure heat). It’s the scrappy guys who are used to hitting junk in the minors who put the most hurt on them.

Most pitches in the majors are about the tightest, quickest spin you can get on them. The tighter, the faster you throw it, the bigger the break, the wider the cut, the later the movement. It all adds up to a ball that is harder to hit. With the knuckleball all of that goes out the window. The key to the pitch is that it doesn’t spin, or it little spins as little possible – less than two revolution between leaving the pitcher’s hand and reaching the catcher’s glove (or at least the catcher’s general vicinity). With this lack of spin, the resting stitches catch the air different every time, making the pitch completely unpredictable not only to the hitter, but the catcher, umpire and even the pitcher himself.

But even for those who have mastered the pitch, it’s hard to control. A microcosm of baseball itself, the knuckleball is a cruel, unpredictable thing and, like Bill Bucknor or Mitch Williams before him, Tim Wakefield’s career highlight will probably end up being one bad pitch. He’s 200 game winner, yes, but he’s also the guy who gave up the walkoff homerun to Aaron Boone — Mr. Scrappy — in the 2003 AL Championship Series, sending the Yankees to the World Series instead of the Red Sox. Before that one pitch, a knuckler that tumbled its way to the plate more than danced, he was probably going to be the MVP of the series. He was dynamite against the Yankees that series. Hundreds of great pitches all forgotten because of one bad one.

Wakefield retired at the end of the 2011 season. This season, there was only Dickey to carry the banner. Carry it he did though, to the point that he’ll probably win the National League Cy Young Award after a 20-6 All-Star season where he threw back-to-back 1 hit shutouts. All of that means one thing: we’ll see a lot more of these oddballs in the future as kids now begin to take it as a serious pitch.

Side by Side – Christopher Kenneally (2012)

Film. Digital. Once, locked in a bitter war and advertised as “film versus digital”, the scrap is barely a fight anymore. Though film keeps hanging on, keeps holding onto devotes, like For Ellen (VOD on 9/19) director of photography Reed Morano, the digital revolution seems cemented in victory at the moment.

This “film”, in fact, was shot on digital cameras. Beginning it’s journey down the workflow, it was stored digitally, edited and graded, and the sound re-recorded and de-fuzzed on digital workspaces. Finally, it was viewed by me (and probably you) digitally, delivered to my digital television by Amazon over a wireless connection, where I watched it in the comfort of my living room. It’s hard to argue against that, the ease, the comfort, and the quickness. No waiting in lines, no travelling, no annoying texters or chatters in the seat in front of you. The only noise outside of the film while watching it was a snoring dog, and I can hardly yell at him to shut the hell up.

It’s a provocative film, though I struggle to call it a compelling must see film because it’s demographic is likely compromised by the intense interest over the last decade in the story. Side by Side is a good primer if you came late to the game, but if you’ve been following the rise of digital and slow suffocation of film over the years, there probably isn’t a lot you don’t know in the offing, and Keanu Reeves’ unfortunate narration style isn’t going to help you stay tuned should you become bored. Still, I appreciate his interest and passion on the subject, and his interview style is fine — the conversations he finds himself engaged in with the Wachowski’s especially is worth watching it for alone.

I’m also appreciative of how much time the film spent on discussing techy elements, like dynamic range and depth of field, and just how important the color grading step is to a finished film, though somewhat disappointed about how little time it spent on archiving. Archival prints are the whole ball game as it stands. Robert Rodriquez is right when he says digital will keep getting better and cheaper, eventually — probably — surpassing film. But how do we hang on to this stuff? Digital is not a sustainable model for making sure these treasures are available hundreds or even thousands of years from now. George Lucas’s offhand, “someone will figure it out because it’s so important” isn’t comforting at this point, especially thinking about stories such as Toy Story 2′s near miss with complete deletion. The final word on it comes from DP Geoff Boyle who pays out the discomfort offered by Lucas by concluding, “we’re fucked.” Sorry to the unborn generations, who may one day have learn about Michael Corleone and the Man with No Name by reading criticism. Suckers! At least someone wins in this story.

“The Sweatbox” & Glen Keane: Disney Feature Animation at a Crossroads

As you might expect, Disney is a bit of a love-hate obsession with this OW writer. Last week, some brave soul risked (financial and legal) life and limb to post The Sweatbox on YouTube. It’s since been removed, but that toothpaste isn’t going back into the tube.

If you’re asking yourself what the hell The Sweatbox is, there is a good reason you’ve never heard of it.

It’s a feature length documentary shot by Trudie Styler, wife of Sting, chronicling the six year process of Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios making what would eventually become The Emperor’s New Groove, which began life very differently as Kingdom of the Sun before the WDFA chiefs, Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider, made a few crew changes.

For years now, The Sweatbox, has been locked away in a Disney vault, becoming one of those holy grail-type films that people had kind of given up on ever seeing. Disney had honored the bare minimum of its contract for the film, showing it a handful of times at festivals and then stuck it away in the vault. The word was that it was not a very flattering look into the making of the sausage. In fairness, the making of most films is a battle of attrition, and The Sweatbox caught that in all of its bloody awkwardness, casually putting Disney’s storytelling and creative process on trial through the consternation of Sting and his furrowed, chess-playing, letter-writing brow.

It’s hardly a rare tale at all, especially in the animation industry, especially at Disney. It happened to varying degrees on The Lion King before they found the Hamletesque version of the story as well, and even at Pixar on Toy Story 2, Ratatouille and Wall-E. Live action is no different, especially in Classic Hollywood. The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, How Green Was My Valley, they all had major changes in casting, director and script. Casablanca and Jaws were being filmed during the day and written at night so they could film more the next day.

Continue reading…