Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Looking for an antidote to the saccharine yuletide offerings that Hollywood
often releases this time of year? If youre a fan of the 90s
rock, you may have found it in Dig.
A cynical cinema vérité documentary from Ondi Timoner (TVs
Switched), Dig concerns a rivalry that developed between two
formerly popular bands, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The
Gaining unprecedented access to the backstage lives of members of both
bands, Timoner has created an exhilarating documentary that is as noteworthy
as it is sad.
The drama took place over several years as both bands were beginning to
make a mark for themselves. Each group was into the retro-60s sound
and big fans of the others efforts.
The volatile leader of BJM was Anton Newcombe, a talented but severely
neurotic musician who played dozens of instruments. He became at least
as well known for his erratic behavior as his music, churning out albums
with apparent ease while shunning major record labels.
Courtney Taylor, leader of the Warhols, is, in some ways, the antithesis
of Newcombe. Level headed and well adjusted, he was Newcombes biggest
fan. Although a talented songwriter himself, he admits that he never reached
Newcombes artistic heights but got the big record contract and a
huge following in Europe.
Newcombes self-destructive tendencies are the main focus of the
film. In spite of his eager participation in what was to be a brutally
honest portrait, he has since denounced Timoners movie. Perhaps
it is because Taylor provides the narration and expresses a sad bewilderment
at how their friendship deteriorated into a bitter feud. Still, Taylor
readily admits his unflinching admiration of Newcombes artistry
even as he questions his sanity.
The only downside of Timoners movie is that it doesnt provide
enough of either of the bands music for the uninitiated to make
an appropriate judgment of its merit. When individuals express their beliefs
that Newcombe is a rock genius on a par with Dylan and Lennon, we have
to take their word for it. Others may assume that the emperor has no clothes.
What does seem clear is that Newcombe is afraid of success. By hiding
behind his contention that signing on with a major record label amounts
to selling out, he is free to fail and retain his artistic
integrity. Whether his actions are conscious or not, he does everything
imaginable to sabotage his own career.
Unmistakably, Dig captures the psychosis of the rock world. (R)
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
It is said that just before you die, your life flashes before your eyes.
If Jonathan Caouette were about to die, he would surely have a vision
something like Tarnation.
The cinematic self-portrait of a troubled young man, Tarnation is an amazing,
nearly hallucinogenic film that has much the same appeal as rubbernecking
at a traffic accident. Some of it is ugly, but you cant take your
eyes off of it.
Combining home movies (Caouette has been making films since he was eleven
years old), still photographs, B horror movie clips and eclectic musical
interludes, he has amassed a wholly original, affecting and unblinking
summation of his life.
Caouette was born in 1972 in Texas. His mother, Renee, underwent electroshock
treatments after falling off a roof. That remedy left her
permanently brain damaged. With his mother in and out of mental institutions,
Caouette was partly raised in foster homes where he was abused. Later,
after moving in with his dysfunctional grandparents, he witnessed his
After smoking some tainted pot as a very young teen, he began suffering
from a mental condition diagnosed as depersonalization. As
a result of this malady, he caused trouble for his grandparents and attempted
suicide several times. Eventually, he entered the gay club scene in Houston
and ultimately became involved in S&M.
Throughout his life, he escaped into the world of cinema and movie making.
A self-acknowledged packrat, he amassed an astounding amount of footage
of himself and his family members that he skillfully mined for this film.
Perhaps the most touching aspect of the film is Caouettes undying
devotion to his damaged mother. The movies opening moments show
his despair at the news that his mother has overdosed on her lithium medication.
From that moment on, we flash back in time to see what led up to this
The film is remarkable enough on its own, but is all the more amazing
when considering that it was made for $218.32. Caouette edited his Super
8 movies, video footage and photos on a Mackintosh using free iMovie software.
(If that isnt an inspiration for aspiring filmmakers, then they
have no hope.)
Some will consider aspects of Caroettes film to be exploitive (some
of the footage of his mother and grandmother is hard to take), but Caroettes
motivation is simply to present the unbridled truth in a poetic way.
This issue aside, Tarnation is a riveting, documentary that
stretches the boundaries of filmmaking. It comes closer to art than 99
percent of Hollywood product. (Not rated) Rating: 4
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
On the films official website, the director of L.A. Twister, Sven
Pape, put it this way:
L.A. Twister is an inside story and an exercise in craft. Not everybody's
cup of tea. It is neither a mainstream Hollywood movie nor the artistically
valuable art house film. A fellow director once told me after watching
the rough cut: You got a problem here. You got a tweener. You're
That skeptical fellow director was probably right. This independently
made film is a comedy about making an independent film. Its even
being distributed independently. One may admire the gumption and tenacity
of such and undertaking, but in the end this effort will probably find
itself independent of audiences.
Based upon a play (and webcast), L.A. Twister stars K.U. grad Tony Daly
(Dodgeball) as Ethan, a despondent lad whose wife has left him. Directionless,
he goes to Tinseltown to visit his friend Lenny, played by Zack Ward (Resident
Lenny is too caught up in his efforts to secure some acting work to be
mindful of Ethans woes. His efforts to gain a part in an action
movie include bedding a homely casting agent, only to discover that the
only role hell get is as an extra.
These two down-and-outers decide to make their own movie. All theyll
have to do is come up with an idea, a script and some money.
Ethan, working as a masseuse, fends off the advances of a horny middle-aged
Beverly Hills wife (Susan Blakely) while giving her bi-sexual husband
a Hollywood insider his rubdown. Lenny romances a married
actress named Mindy (Jennifer Aspen) who has auditioned for his film project.
Naturally, the shady investor they secured for their movie turns out to
be a phony. Against all odds (and logic), they persist.
Daly is a handsome and likable actor, and Ward, who will forever be known
as the yellow-eyed bully Scut Farcus in A Christmas Story, has some tolerable
The problem with L.A. Twister lies in its inconsistent tone. The juxtaposition
of broad, satiric comedy with dramatic elements (a suicide attempt) is
unconvincing. The stabs at magic realism (occasional behind the scenes
footage of the making of the film are interspersed with the action) only
further muddy the waters.
In the end, L.A. Twister doesnt have a strong point of view, so
neither will it have a strong chance of capturing an audience. (R) Rating:
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
How intriguing that every major star who appeared in Oceans
11 returned for this second outing.
Obviously, the actors did not receive their usual astronomical fees.
The appeal of locations like the Netherlands and Rome aside, the only
conclusion one can draw is that the first Ocean film was a fun movie to
Why else would actors like Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and
Matt Damon jump at the chance to do it again? The ensemble is clearly
amused, and while Oceans 12 is a bit muddled, the experience
of sharing that amusement is pleasant.
The plot is a bit of a mess. Some mysterious person has ratted out Danny
Ocean (George Clooney) and his gang to Benedict (Andy Garcia), the casino
owner they robbed in the first film. Now the gang must travel to Europe,
gather 160 million dollars for restitution, avoid the brilliant detective
Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones), discover who broke rule number one and
named names, and steal some priceless stuff along the way.
Writer George Nolfi no longer has the original 1960 story written by George
Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell to guide him. With the absence
of a muse, Nolfi apparently turned to Blake Edwards Pink Panther
movies as a new inspiration, and while there are moments of ingenuity
(a bit with Julia Roberts comes to mind), the result is a plotline that
never inspires the viewers investment.
Another complaint is that Oceans 12 has a disappointing tendency
to use its B list actors solely as cameos and filler. Two
of the funniest men on this earth, Bernie Mac and Eddie Izzard, appear
in this movie. Yet the only way their talent could have been less showcased
is if they had been assigned to carpentry duty.
Other wonderful actors like Elliot Gould, Don Cheadle and Robbie Coltrane
ham it up in an attempt to make the most of their screen time. The only
actor whose supporting performance stands out is the great Vincent Cassel.
His sheer magnitude dominates every one of his scenes.
Viewers can forgive all the flaws in Oceans 12, because we
know everyone is having fun. Director Steven Soderbergh keeps the action
light and bouncy, and allows the wonderful music of David Holmes to set
the pace. Holmes music is the kind of accompaniment we wish other
people heard when they saw us walking down the street.
Oceans 12 may not be smart, but it has a beat and I can
dance to it. (PG-13) Rating 3