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On this page: BAD REPUTATION | GUN NO 6
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last update 25.Nov.18
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Bad Reputation
dir Kevin Kerslake
scr Joel Marcus
prd Peter Afterman, Carianne Brinkman
with Joan Jett, Kenny Laguna, Iggy Pop, Michael J Fox, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Kathleen Hanna, Pete Townshend, Bill Curbishley, Rodney Bingenheimer, Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart
laguna and jett
release US 28.Sep.18,
UK 26.Oct.18
18/US 1h33

london film fest
Bad Reputation With a driving rock 'n' roll vibe, this documentary traces the career of one of our most iconic rockers: Joan Jett. As a take-no-prisoners woman, her story seriously inspiring, even if she would balk at the thought. This is a hugely entertaining film, recounting her life with humour and texture, revealing her as a dedicated musician who has never forgotten who she is.

Filmmaker Kerslake doesn't dive too deeply into her childhood, aside from her first electric guitar, a cheap one her parents bought as a Christmas present. This sent her on an odyssey that led to Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco in Hollywood, where she fell in with the glam rock crowd and formed the Runaways. Sabotaged by their label, Jett went solo and became a producer before forming Blackheart with writer-producer Kenny Laguna, who is still her professional partner. Their early collaboration on I Love Rock 'n' Roll sent her career into the stratosphere.

Jett has always maintained her privacy, and she doesn't give much away here either. But her personality comes through in interviews and especially her hilarious interaction with Laguna. They're like an old married couple, showing deep respect and affection while bickering about pretty much everything. It's no wonder that they have had such a long-running creative streak despite a series of astonishing setbacks that would have left a lesser talent in obscurity.

Indeed, Jett has had to battle her entire career because she's a woman in a man's game. Always labelled a "female rocker" she actually out-rocks the men, as is vividly demonstrated in a clip of her standing in for Kurt Cobain to perform Smells Like Teen Spirit at Nirvana's induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Jett was inducted the following year). But the press and label bosses continually hounded Jett simply because she's female, arguably breaking up the Runaways and muting her success with Blackheart.

The film presents these issues without getting political, instead concentrating on Jett's refusal to live on someone else's terms. In its final section, the documentary reveals how speaks out on big issues and she encourages younger bands, from the Germs in the 70s to Bikini Kill in the 90s. It's fascinating to see people she has worked with, from fellow musicians Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop to Light of Day costar Michael J Fox, speak about her with unabashed admiration. And after watching this doc, it's difficult not to feel the same.

15 themes, language
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Gun No. 6
4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir James Newton
prd Georgina Cammalleri, Zac Beattie
with Andy Hough, David, Dean, Darryl, Samzy, Leroy, Penny, Alison, Akeem Huntley, Ken Hodson-Walker, Judy Hodson-Walker, Gareth Cooper, Craig Pinkney
Gun No 6 release UK 5.Oct.18
18/UK 1h15
Gun No 6 Following a gun over the course of its life may not sound like the most original idea for a documentary, but filmmaker James Newton has a lot more on his mind than that. This inventive film works on a range of layers, offering unexpected insight relating to various aspects of criminality, all as it follows the path of Britain's deadliest illegal firearm.

Since handguns were outlawed in Britain in the wake of the horrific 1996 school shooting in Dunblane, police have been able to use ballistics to track remaining guns as they've been used around the country. The most-used is number 6, a 9mm automatic handgun that was first fired in 2003 Birmingham. Over the next several years, 11 shootings have been logged, mainly gang-related crimes, but also armed robbery and murder. The film recreates these stories by talking to the police, victims and families.

Newton's boldest move is to cast five ex-cons, each of whom was connected to a gun crime, and have them re-enact Gun 6's shootings. Of course this takes the audience aback with scenes that are disturbing on two levels. But it also has an effect on these guys, who recount their personal stories with a surprising kick of resonant emotion. Their observations about the nature of gun crime are pointed and important, discussing how holding a gun removes a sense of logic as well as any need to admit weakness.

But their most vital contribution is to discuss why they got into crime in the first place, how it felt, what it meant and why they now want to change. Further, several victims discuss the impact of having a family member violently murdered, leading to a variety of repercussions. Grief never goes away, and some find their lives derailed, falling into crime themselves. The echoing, extending tragedy is often hard to watch, wrenching in its emotional impact. All of this is beautifully assembled from surveillance footage, home movies and skilfully shot interviews and dramatisations.

Running through all of this is an exploration of why society has evolved into gang warfare among people who simply don't have any chance of furthering themselves in any other way. Often raised without one or both parents, they turn to gangs to find love, not worrying about whether they'll die because no one cares about them anyway. Without pushing the point, this is a bleak depiction of an unfair, badly lopsided society. And by combining so many elements into such a tightly well-assembled narrative, Newton says a lot about us.

12 themes, violence, language

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Lucha VaVoom: Inside America’s Most Outrageous Show
dir Ben Churchill
prd Ben Churchill, Erik Stone
with Joey Ryan, Cassandro el Exotico, Karis Wilde, Marawa the Amazing, Marc Hickox, Rita D'Albert, Liz Fairbairn, Ignacio Serricchio, Blaine Capatch, Lil Cholo, Jessabelle Thunder, Chocolate Caliente
ryan release US 16.Oct.18
18/US 1h17
See also:
Cassandro the Exotico (2018) Cassandro (2023)
Lucha VaVoom If you've never heard of Lucha VaVoom, this documentary is basically a must see. This offbeat style of full-on entertainment has been around since 2002, merging Mexican freestyle wresting with sexy burlesque. It's a relatively straightforward doc, as the cast and crew discuss various elements of the show, their roles in it and what it means to them. But the flamboyance of it all is amazing.

Lucha Vavoom was formed as a way to introduce Mexican wresting to a wider audience, adding burlesque just to bring more spectators into the arena. And it worked better than anyone thought it would. Over the years, these two elements have begun to merge, with increasingly outrageous wrestlers and athletic dancers. Like a circus family, the performers have been doing this since they were young children, and they all pitch in together to keep the business running. They also attract A-list comedy stars to help host the events.

The wrestlers and dangers have huge personalities, which they bring to their colourful characters. With his mane of hair, Cassandro is the Liberace of Lucha, the first out gay champion, and he refuses to wear a mask. The non-binary Karis delights in blurring gender lines. Marawa performs in stiletto roller skates. Marc plays a spoof German popstar lothario named "Heino". And handsome ladies' man Joey plays on his hairy good looks and dopey persona. "Lucha VaVoom is about the pageantry and the show," he says.

The film moves at a fast pace, playfully teasing the audience with the outrageous footage, which basically consists of either men slamming each other into the floor or women performing striptease routines in glittery costumes. And sometimes the genders are reversed. Their performances are thoroughly entertaining, delighting in wrong-footing the audience. In interviews, the wrestlers discuss how their fights are choreographed but always go off-script, leading to some nasty injuries.

The message here is that these people have found a way to be who they are in the most unrestrained way possible, and they encourage their audience to do the same, join in the fun and escape from their everyday lives. What's most intriguing is how the show seems to be engaging in the worst possible gender exploitation (fighting men and scantily clad women), but actually these performers are twisting the status quo, consistently proving that society's stereotypes don't apply here. And of course, most of all, they're also just having a lot of infectious fun.

15 themes, language, violence, nudity
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Three Identical Strangers
dir Tim Wardle
prd Grace Hughes-Hallett, Becky Read
with Robert Shafran, David Kellman, Eddy Galland, Brenda Galland, Lawrence Wright, Howard Schneider, Janet Kellman, Alice Shafran, Elliott Galland, Hedy Page, Mort Shafran, Alan Lucas, Michael Domnitz
Three Identical Strangers release US 29.Jun.18,
UK 30.Nov.18
18/UK Dogwoof 1h36

Three Identical Strangers This documentary follows a jaw-dropping story that opens as an extraordinary and unusually charming drama then grippingly twists into an adventure and ultimately a mystery. After the lively introduction of three men who discovered they were triplets at age 19, director Tim Wardle begins digging into their happy story, finding a dark truth lurking underneath. The film bogs down in these details, but the core story is fascinating. And moving.

Arriving at university, Bobby is unnerved when everyone calls him Eddy, and one person says the resemblance is far too uncanny. Sure enough, both were born on the same day and adopted soon after. Their sudden bond attracts a newspaper story, which leads to the discovery of third triplet David. Reunited, they storm New York in the '80s, living the high life as minor celebrities, complete with a cameo opposite Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Then journalist Lawrence Wright discovers that they were actually part of a secret nature-vs-nurture study that involved separated identical twins.

The story of how the brothers found each other and instantly became inseparable is hugely engaging, capturing the lively energy of these three young men back in 1980, as remembered by Bobby and David today. Eddy is conspicuous by his absence, represented by friends and family, so when the filmmaker finally recounts what happened to him, it's intensely emotional. This also adds another huge issue into the mix, a topic that is perhaps too strong for a film that is otherwise centred on its briskly moving narrative.

Even more troubling is Wardle's attempt to follow the scientific study story down the rabbit hole of phone calls, research assistants and files that are locked away until 2066. The final half of the film is consumed by this quest, which never quite resolves itself into something meaningful, for obvious reasons. Much more interesting is the relationship between these men and their parents, including Eddy's fate, and this is what keeps the audience hooked through the murkier sections.

As revealed in snapshots, home movies and TV interview clips, Bobby, Eddy and David are lively young men with infectious smiles, clearly delighted at discovering each other. They instantly feel like they belong together, and the film also touches on the psychological ramifications of pulling them apart at birth, complicated by other mental health issues. These bigger themes are important and powerfully complex, but Wardle opts to entertain viewers instead of properly grappling with issues or reaching any real conclusions.

PG themes, language

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