A different, more personal take on the Blaze Foley story than the (also great) Tales from the Tour Bus episode – this one duct-tapes the opening title and some clothing along the way but never tells duct tape stories or even directly acknowledges it. It’s a different approach for a biopic, taking a not-so-famous subject and refusing to tell the memorably quirky stories about him. Loosely structured around a concert (which was recorded, available on CD!) a month before he was killed defending a friend, and a radio interview with Townes Van Zandt regaling a clueless DJ with Blaze stories.

I watched this half for the country music stories and half for Alia Shawkat as Blaze’s wife Sybil. At least I think they got married, I forget, maybe not, but I might’ve found clarification at the Landmark Q&A with the real Sybil had I known it was happening. The other biopic-unusual thing here is telling the life story out of order, editing scenes more for emotional flow than narrative structure. I learned my lesson about watching movies about real-life musicians (this week I’m skipping Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters), but this sounded good from reviews, and dammit, it was real good.

With musicians Ben Dickey and Charlie Sexton as Blaze and Townes, plus Kris Kristofferson, Gurf Morlix, and Steve Zahn as an oilman-turned-record executive. This movie’s gonna end up like Blaze’s music, never well-known but passed around and talked about by fans, used (with Bird) as a counter-example when someone tells us all musician dramas are bad.

This came out the same time as Kate Plays Christine and was slammed, then I read some defenses of it, so thought it’d be instructive to watch both. And this one, the straight period-piece retelling of dead newswoman Christine Chubbuck’s final days, was worse than I’d feared, an unenlightening, 1970’s-fetishizing semi-drama leading to a foregone, unpleasant ending. Christine has a depressive history, has personal and family and work troubles, and tragically kills herself on air. Michaels Sicinski and D’Angelo argue that it’s not unethical, not exploitative – maybe so, but it struck a couple wrong notes with me. I kept thinking “sure, but what’s the point,” and then Kate Plays Christine was an entire feature about trying to find the point, and that played beautifully for me. Not a huge fan of Simon Killer either, I’ll be hesitant to watch another Campos joint (but damn, Sicinski says Afterschool is great).

The actors do an unusually good job with unexciting material, at least. Rebecca Hall is magnetic as Christine, despite the character being prickly and awkward. Tracy Letts, who’s wonderful in everything these days, is the boss, Timothy Simons from Veep is a coworker, and Michael “no relation” Hall (TV’s Dexter) a potential love interest.

Back in theaters… not for the happiest of reasons, but I’ll take it. Electrifying for the first half hour, then gradually settles into a biopic-groove despite all of Mann’s trademark flair. But with energy and performances this good, I wasn’t worried at the time, just floating on the great history and character and love in this movie.

V. Morton:

Best appreciated in a theater, with a real sound system. The sound mix is key to the legendary opening montage, the way Mann brings Sam Cooke forward and backward, providing structure to otherwise-random memory footage that serves as exposition and context, without feeling like it. The sound is also the key to the fight scenes, in which Mann puts on the screen the subjective feel of being in a boxing match in a way rarely-matched.

Unfortunately, sound at the Grand was turned way down, I guess so the retro boxing movie wouldn’t audibly compete with whatever Care Bears nonsense was playing next door. I get better sound from my barely-in-stereo TV at home.

MZ Seitz:

Even when its momentum falters, its visuals never do. Lubezki, the wizard who went storybook-painterly for Tim Burton’s gruesomely entertaining Sleepy Hollow, shoots nearly the entire film with handheld cameras and gyroscopically stabilized Steadicams, shifting focus spontaneously in each shot as if he’s recording history as it happens. It’s arresting, alive and provocative – a documentary affectation reimagined for Hollywood, and it goes a long way toward making Ali exciting even when it’s not making much sense.

You can tell that one was written in 2001/2002, because not since The New World and Children of Men has anyone equated Lubezki with Sleepy Hollow. This points to another reason that the Ali re-release is less revelatory than I hoped – handheld spontaneity has become de rigueur in Hollywood since its first release (not nearly as purposefully as it’s done here)

B. Ebiri:

So there’s another element to Ali — a ghost in the machine that courses throughout the film. Ali the man desires to be free. But the meaning of that word slowly changes. (“Free ain’t easy,” Bundini says. “Free is real. And real’s a motherfucker.”) Ali seeks freedom not just from the reality of America, but also from everything else with dominion over him. He finds this freedom in the construction of his ever-changing, ever-moving identity. (“Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.”) In essence, he liberates himself by becoming larger than anything that ever tried to control him — larger than the Nation of Islam, larger than the media, or boxing, or even, ultimately, America itself.

Endless, rambling bio-pic about a theater producer who always planned bigger shows than he could afford, with enthusiasm that proved contagious to financial backers. Semi-falsely billed as a William Powell/Myrna Loy movie, since she plays his second wife, appearing in the last half hour of the three-hour movie. Good scenes (especially the lavish musical numbers) and acting, but the story is bloated with details from Ziegfeld’s life that just aren’t necessary to the plot or character, starting with an opening scene with his father and a little girl (who returns hours/years later to dance in one of his shows, but so what).

Powell was between The Thin Man and its first sequel. He runs a circus act with strongman Sandow (Nat Pendleton of two Thin Man movies), then marries his star Anna Held (Luise Rainer, winning back-to-back oscars with this and The Good Earth) after moving to Broadway shows. Anna carries her whole show, but Ziegfeld wants to do something bigger (he gives the impression of having a short attention span), so he starts the Follies, a musical comedy variety show that changes every year. Some ups, some downs, he seems washed up then opens four Broadway hits at the same time, then falls broke/sick/dead when the market crashes.

Myrna Loy’s character is Billie Burke, the good witch of The Wizard of Oz, and Frank Morgan (Ziegfeld’s main friend/rival) played The Wizard himself. Surprisingly, Will Rogers was dead and that was a Will Rogers impersonator in his scene.

Written by one of Ziegfeld’s main show writers. Won best picture and actress (Luise Rainer). Frank Capra, The Story of Louis Pasteur and Dodsworth took the rest. Got a semi-sequel in Ziegfeld Girl, also by Robert “Ziegfeld” Leonard with Busby Berkeley (it’s shorter, with Judy Garland = probably a better movie), and the music and comedy revue Ziegfeld Follies, featuring Powell as the dead Ziegfeld.

The movie is divided into sections. Three are adaptations of Mishima novels with autobiographical elements, and they’re tied together with interspersed b/w newsreel-like reenactment of Mishima’s final day (starring Ken Ogata, lead killer in Vengeance Is Mine), with some flashback footage of his youth. It’s an excellent approach to cinematic biography, though I suppose it wouldn’t work on everybody. Philip Glass, who introduced the film at Emory, provides a varied score (less driving lock-grooved than his others).

This would seem like a weird choice for Schrader to follow American Gigolo and Cat People, but he’s apparently a longtime fan of Mishima and of Japanese cinema. His sister-in-law is Japanese and wrote the dialogue. I’m sure he explains all on the Criterion commentary – that DVD has got hours of fab-looking extras.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion: clubfoot student Koichi Sato pals with stutterer Yasosuke Bando, teaches him to exploit his disability in order to score with chicks. It works, and Miss Universe contestant Hisako Manda gets nude, but this is not to the stutterer’s liking, and he decides to destroy everything that is beautiful.

Kyoko’s House: Young man (Kenji Sawada) becomes obsessed with bulking up through weight training. He finds out his mom is deeply indebted to a dangerous loanshark, so he sells himself to pay his mom’s debts, and the two become locked in a spiraling sadomasochistic relationship ending in double suicide.

Runaway Horses: Pro-Emperor militant cult leader Isao (Toshiyuki Nagashima) plans an attack on the government but they’re arrested before they can carry it out. Isao escapes, kills one of the targets (Jun Negami, who appeared in the Mishima-starring Afraid to Die) on his own, then performs seppuku before the rising sun.

Mishima’s actual words are used as narration, in Japanese by Ken Ogata in the restored version, which is what we saw. English-release narrator Roy Scheider later appeared in Naked Lunch, another movie that mixes a novelist’s biographical details into his work.

Matt Damon is Scott, who gets introduced to Liberace (Lee to his friends) by laid-back mustache dude Scott Bakula in the late 1970’s, beginning an affair/family/employee situation that lasts until Lee (Michael Douglas) finally kicks out Scott in favor of a new, younger, less-drug-addicted, less-contentious boy. It comes full circle from when Scott replaced gloomy pretty-boy Cheyenne Jackson (Danny, the new cast member on 30 Rock) at Lee’s house. Liberace dies of AIDS, but Scott is cut out of the will, Lee’s verbal promises not carrying any legal weight, so Scott writes a tell-all memoir.

Performances are great, storytelling is effective, costumes and period details are spot-on, but it can’t break out of the “bio-pic based on tell-all memoir” genre. A squinty Rob Lowe is the highlight as a plastic surgeon who makes Douglas look younger and Damon look weirder with shiny cheeks. Dan Aykroyd plays Lee’s manager and Debbie Reynolds (Tammy and the Bachelor, Susan Slept Here) his mother. Adapted from Scott’s book by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King).

A. Cook: “I don’t know if any other American filmmaker is more inventive right now with choosing where to place the camera, how to frame the image, how to use focus, etc.” I get what he’s saying – in this and Haywire and Contagion I notice unusual editing and shot choices – but the movies’ standard Hollywood storytelling and starpower get in the way. If I was dedicated enough, I might rewatch Haywire paying attention only to its framing and technical qualities, but maybe instead Soderbergh needs more interesting scripts to go with his artistic filmmaking intentions – The Informant being a good example.

“A comic strip in 7 episodes on the life of Richard Strauss 1864-1949” Strauss is played as a power-hungry megalomaniac by Christopher Gable (also of Russell’s Tchaikovsky film The Music Lovers). The film itself is fanciful and alive, and surely one of the best biographic movies I’ve seen.

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Only two years after 2001: A Space Odyssey, Russell accompanies that film’s big opening song with shots of a caveman who soon runs into religious mania and screaming nuns (both of which would be rampant in The Devils the following year).

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“Alas, the time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars. The dead end of mankind is approaching.” I could quote every line and display stills from every shot. This seems way too extravagant to be a made-for-public-television movie, and too good to be a long-censored rarity. Only ten years until this can be shown legally despite the Strauss family’s objections, unless copyright law is extended like it always is.

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We get a love triangle in the box seats at the opera, scenes of Macbeth, Don Quixote, a fun Salome with two lead actresses, and the infamous garden party with the nazis. Yes, the film does feature Strauss giving Hitler a piggyback ride, both of them grinning and playing violins. Various fantasies, both nightmarish (Allied soldiers interrupt Strauss’s innocent mountain vacation and murder his family) and wishful (his glorious music pounds critics into submission).

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Kenneth Colley (Jesus in Life of Brian) – the only actor to play both Jesus and Hitler?
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“A life completely away from politics and war – that is what I’ve always longed for.” Ends with a speech by an aged Strauss distancing himself from the nazi party, “There’s no stain on my character. These nazis are criminals, I’ve always known that.” But a minute later complains about “Jewish stubbornness” before catching himself. Russell partly credits Richard Strauss with scenario/dialogue, saying he used the man’s own words in the script. A scathing portrayal.

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IMDB has incomplete credits. Judith Paris (a nun in The Devils) played Strauss’s wife Pauline, Vladek Sheybal (camp classic The Apple, Russell’s Women In Love) was Goebbels and Imogen Claire (appeared in and choreographed Lisztomania) was one of the two Salomes.

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Tape number at top of screenshots provided so the BBC can locate their tapes and release this properly. Timecode (below) provided so you can easily find your favorite scenes. Thank me later.

The MBC:

The complete title reveals Russell’s intention to create a satirical political cartoon on the life of the German composer, who Russell saw as a “self-advertising, vulgar, commercial man . . . [a] crypto-Nazi with the superman complex underneath the facade of the distinguished elderly composer.” And, although, according to Russell, “95 percent of what Strauss says in the film he actually did say in his letters and other writings,” many critics and viewers found Russell’s treatment of the venerated composer itself to be vulgar.

Somewhat-funny comedy with some good moments, but mostly made me wonder when it would be over. Did not leave in a good mood, and things only got worse from there.

Tim Meadows was the funniest part. Harold Ramis funny too. Dewey Cox’s love interest is in the American “Office”. Everyone’s favorite scene was Dewey’s meditation with The Beatles: Jason Schwartzmann, Jack Black, Paul Rudd and Justin Long (of “live free die hard”). John C. Reilly good, but not awards-good.

Katy liked the songs.

Another quizzical music biography by Mr. Haynes. Someone said that any of his music movies (“Karen Carpenter Story”, Bowie doc “Velvet Goldmine”) could be titled “I’m Not There”. Dylan is actually there, playing harmonica in close-up at the very very end.

Dylans:

Rimbaud / in interview room giving evasive answers / guy from “Perfume”

Woody / train-hopping authentic-sounding blues kid actually a runaway / Marcus Carl Franklin from “Be Kind Rewind”

Billy / quiet recluse living in a western town of his own imagination / Richard Gere

Robbie / guy playing Dylan in typical hollywood bio-pic / Heath Ledger

Jack / fame-shunning Christian folk singer / Christian (heh) Bale

Jude (also heh) / the well-known “don’t look back” 60’s dylan who cavorts with the Beatles and flippantly defies fan and media expectations / Cate Blanchett in one of my favorite performances of the year

Aaand Charlotte Gainsbourg is Robbie’s estranged wife, who is the heart of the movie, the only character with actual human emotion and understandable actions. She barely belongs except to keep the thing reigned in a little.

Fascinating movie, amazing music (Dylan of course) and b/w/color cinematography (Ed Lachman – The Limey, Far From Heaven, A Prairie Home Companion). Must see again and again.