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last update 9.Nov.09
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All Tomorrow’s Parties
dir Jonathan Caouette, All Tomorrow's People
prd Luke Morris
with Belle and Sebastian, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Patti Smith, Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave, The Gossip, Portishead, Sonic Youth, Mogwai, Daniel Johnston, Animal Collective, David Cross
bustin' down the door
release US Mar.09 sxsw,
UK 16.Nov.09 dvd
09/UK WarpX 1h22

los angeles film fest
edinburgh film fest
all tomorrow's parties This documentary about a British cult musical festival is loose and fascinating, but not remotely accessible for those unfamiliar with the All Tomorrow's Parties phenomenon. Even so, it's a fascinating swirl of people and music.

The film consists of found footage from a decade of ATP, all shot during the events by either news crews or the fans themselves. Caouette assembles it like a kaleidoscopic collage, with split screens and a playful mix of audio and image, sometimes lingering on a lengthy performance and other times tormenting us by quickly cutting away. There are also frequent scenes of the attendees indulging in pranks, raucous interaction and impromptu jam sessions wherever they happen to be at the time.

Organised by Belle and Sebastian, the festival is held in grim British holiday camps like Butlins Minehead ("It's like Auschwitz with good music"). There's no headline act and no sponsorship; instead, the event is curated (whatever that means). Over the years, top musical acts have been drawn to the event, both to perform and to curate concerts that often feel like community-based performance art pieces. There's even an amusing segment following David Cross as he bravely tries a bit of stand-up.

There's a fiercely independent vibe here, with deep-seated resentment of the major record companies. These events are a chance for fans and musicians to gather to play music and film each other with their cameras (and mobile phones). In many ways, they're successors to Woodstock-era hippies, revelling in freedom, experiencing music for the pure joy of it and staying as far from the pop industry as they can get. So it's no surprise that several big-name artists have been drawn to ATP over the years.

caouette introduces the film in los angeles The material is extremely interesting, with some fabulous music as well as hilarious off-stage antics and offhanded moments with the musicians. But Caouette's vague structure has no sense of narrative drive; it's like a work of art itself, and is fairly elusive to those of us who know nothing about the ATP movement. Because of this meandering approach, it's not an easy film to sit and watch, even though every clip is packed with energy, humour and artistry.

From the SHADOWS BLOG, Los Angeles Film Festival, 24.Jun.09:
"Jonathan Caouette presented his new film All Tomorrow's Parties last night here in Los Angeles at a gorgeous screening under the open sky at the Ford Amphitheatre. The film was preceded by Spike Jonze's hilariously surreal new short We Were Once a Fairytale, starring Kanye West."

15 themes, language, sexuality
24.Jun.09 laff
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Love the Beast
dir Eric Bana
prd Eric Bana, Matt Hill, Peter Hill
with Eric Bana, Jeremy Clarkson, Jay Leno, Dr Phil McGraw, Tony Ramunno, Jack Vukoja, Andrew Templeton, Rebecca Bana, Ivan Bana, Ellen Bana, Tim Lynas, Jim Richards
bana and the beast release Aus 12.Mar.09,
UK 13.Nov.09
09/Australia 1h32
love the beast Essentially a love story about a boy and his car, Eric Bana documents his life-long romance with his 1970s muscle car in this warm, enjoyable film. Although more energy and humour might have made it more engaging.

Since growing up in suburban Melbourne, two things in Eric's life haven't changed: his mates and his car. He bought the Ford Falcon as a teen and rebuilt it over the years with his pals Tony, Jack and Temps, eventually racing it in the Targa Tasmania five-day rally in 1996. Now the plan is to have one last race and, after completely rebuilding it again, they head back to Tasmania. But the event forces Eric to look at what he really feels about the car.

Bana clearly takes all of this very seriously and expects us to as well. From the nostalgic home movies and stills, we see that Bana thinks of his Falcon as a member of the family. So of course he brings his parents Ivan and Ellen and his wife Rebecca into the film, as well as his dad's vintage T-bird, which he treats almost like a big brother.

This humourless approach is the film's biggest surprise because Bana started his career as a stand-up, and Aussies are known for their raucous irreverence. But this film is awash in emotive touches, from a mournful orchestral score to earnest narration. It only touches on real life when he and his pal Tony go off script and tease each other. And then there are the celebrity guests: Clarkson, Leno and Dr Phil aren't exactly the most cutting-edge voices out there.

At least they have relevant things to say; Clarkson is a car guru, while Leno has an astoundingly huge car collection. Dr Phil is on hand to talk about the feelings we get from owning and driving a car, as well as the trickiness of balancing work, family and a passion for race driving. Car lovers will enjoy all of this, but the film is only actually interesting when it almost accidentally reveals the depth of Bana's obsession. And the way he so intricately shoots and edits this film makes it clear that driving is his first love.

15 themes, language
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Michael Jackson’s This Is It
dir Kenny Ortega
prd Paul Gongaware, Randy Phillips
with Michael Jackson, Travis Payne, Kenny Ortega, Stacy Walker, Michael Bearden, Bruce Jones, Dorian Holley, Patrick Woodroffe, Orianthi, Mo Pleasure, Tommy Organ, Alex Al
jackson and crew release US/UK 28.Oct.09
09/US Columbia 1h51
this is it Since no one will ever see the epic show, the next best thing is this compilation of rehearsal footage for Jackson's 50 planned This Is It concerts in London. And while it's not a particularly remarkable film, it's an entertaining backstage glimpse.

Peppered with vox pops from dancers and musicians, the film takes us through the show from Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' to Man in the Mirror. For most of the numbers, Ortega splices together practice performances from multiple rehearsals, which means that sometimes the sound doesn't match the visuals (although it all seems to be recorded live). And what we see is an astoundingly gifted musician who's perhaps not as robust as he used to be, but still has an extraordinary ease with his voice and body.

The doc's straightforward style covers up some of its careful construction. Despite the fact that there are supposedly 100 hours of rehearsal footage (recorded for Jackson's private archive), a lot of the screen time is given to the effects work, including the large-scale short films that accompany the big set pieces. Some of these are extremely impressive, such as the way they multiply 11 dancers into a massive gyrating army, a 1940s mash-up placing Jackson into a mob movie with Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth, or when the stage is transformed into a 1960s set for a Jackson 5 medly.

Through all of this we see Jackson working with the dancers, musicians and filmmakers, taking an extremely hands-on approach to the concert and effortlessly demonstrating his physical and vocal fitness. He clearly knows how he wants the music to sound ("You've got to let it simmer, just bathe in the moonlight"). Through all of this he comes across as relatively down-to-earth, fiendishly talented and passionate about his work.

He's also zealous about saving the planet, as seen in the Earth Song film, which sees lush nature turned into an apocalyptic vision of hell and redefines the concert's title. Ortega stresses this heavily, including in one of the post-credit clips, and also indulges in a bit of eulogising the dancers practically worship Jackson as he performs Billy Jean alone on stage. Although, frankly, anyone would cheer while watching that.

PG some suggestive or scary images
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dir-scr Chris Atkins
prd Felicity Leabeater, Christina Slater
with Chris Atkins, Max Clifford, Wesley Autrey, John Smeaton, John Hillary, Robert Gallinsky, Robert Russell, Jake Halpern, Agnes Nairn, Nick Davies, Dave Reed, Emma Bussey
amy winehouse release 6.Nov.09
09/UK 1h43

london film fest
starsuckers While this documentary is packed with critical and entertaining material, it has no central through-line to hold it together. And this fragmented structure has the effect of watering down the important observations that are made.

Atkins is exploring the celebrity-obsessed media, which is certainly a vital theme. And there's no shortage of footage and interviewees to probe the issue from every angle: how we are tantalised by the continual promise of instant fame, how we use others to achieve notoriety, the power of association, the commercialisation of news, and how much money there is to be made from this entire industry.

The doc is framed with smarmy we-you chapter headings that imply that a massive conspiracy is at work, rather than just a way to cash in on the craving for celebrity. Not only does this approach feel condescending, but it fails to connect the dots between the various aspects of the issue. While each chapter is fascinating, the connections between them feel forced. This isn't to say that Atkins doesn't try: he intersperses a story about a 6-year-old wannabe star all the way through the film. But frankly that would have made a strong documentary on its own.

And this is the real issue: each aspect of this film is worth an entire, more focussed exploration. Maybe this could have been a TV series with episodes looking at reality TV, pushy parents, child-targeted programming, instant celebrity, the gossip/paparazzi business, star-centred charity events and the future of newsgathering. Atkins tries to cover all of these, and none of them feel properly investigated. Some segments, such as the extremely critical look at the Live 8 concerts, really need to be fleshed out much further.

Even so, everything in here is quite urgent, and Atkins makes his points with wit and irony. Most enjoyable are the Bruno-like sequences in which Atkins and his team allow parents to put their children up for the most ludicrous performance roles, or when they plant fake stories in British tabloids, then watch as each is picked up in media all over the world. But he never successfully links all of this together, so by the end, while we have learned a lot, we're not sure what to do with any of it.

12 themes, language
23.Oct.09 lff
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall