As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block has ceased publication. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. 

TODAY

Wednesday, October 23

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


Airbags

Control

If you know anything about the Brit band Joy Division, you probably know their most famous song, "Love Will Tear Us Apart," and that their lead singer, Ian Curtis, killed himself at age 23, on the eve of what would have been the band's first U.S. tour. From master portrait photographer and music video director Anton Corbijn comes Control, one of the greatest and most complete portraits of a band clearly destined for a level of fame and fortune they never saw. As an early friend to Joy Division, Corbijn gives us a surprisingly intimate look inside Curtis' (played by relative newcomer Sam Riley) life before and during his time in the band, including his emulation of his '70s heroes like David Bowie and his hastily entered into marriage to his wife Deborah (on whose book this film is based; she's played here by the gifted Samantha Morton). But maybe more than any other recent music biopic, Control gets into the soul of the man who created some seriously troubled and powerful music.

Director Corbijn pays an awesome amount of respect to his friends and heroes, making no secret of the fact that he cared about these working class kids from Manchester. Ian suffered from serious depression for most of his adult life, most of which stemmed from his feeling unable to provide for his new wife and daughter. The pressure of everyday life took its toll on Curtis's health as well, and he was prone to epileptic fits. Once in the band he met a new and exotic woman named Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara), whose charm and personality was miles away from anyone he'd ever met in his small universe. The film does not sugar coat Curtis's flaws, nor does Corbijn shy away from a slight amount of hero worship, never missing an opportunity to show us what a great charmer Curtis was capable of being. Control can only really be faulted for giving us an incomplete picture of the entire band, members of which went on to form New Order after Curtis's death. The thing is, I didn't need these missing pieces to admire this film completely.

Shot in Corbijn's trademark beautiful, grainy black-and-white style, Control shows us a young man who never thought of himself as anything special suddenly thrown into the spotlight and in front of a world ready to consume his every word and movement. Whether it was or not, the weight of the world lay on Ian Curtis's shoulders and it was too much for him to hold. Fans of the Manchester music scene during this period may get a kick out of the re-creation of the Sex Pistols concert attended by only a handful of would-be musicians, all of whom went on to be in successful groups after being inspired by the Pistols' performance. This exact moment in history was also given to us in Michael Winterbottom's excellent 24-Hour Party People, but in Control you get more of sense of the true importance of that show. At times a sad portrait of a family struggling to stay together, a band on the verge of great success, and a man feeling he's responsible for both, Control borders on the spiritual in capturing a life and a death that meant so much to so many. For the record, I was not one of those people growing up. But having seen this loving and honest tribute to a friend, I am moved to explore this facet of music history with a bit more vigor.


Dan in Real Life

Apparently Steve Carell enjoyed the accolades he received for taking on the more serious role of a suicidal gay professor in Little Miss Sunshine so much that he's decided to pepper his purely comedic roles in films like Evan Almighty with more character-driven pieces such as this week's Dan in Real Life, in which he plays a widowed father of three girls, who for the first time since his wife's death four years ago meets a woman who is just about perfect for him. Well, I've seen Carell's latest and I'm here to confirm that Dan in Real Life is not this year's Little Miss Sunshine, but that doesn't mean it's a complete failure either.

It does seem odd that director/co-writer Peter Hedges (Pieces of April) would cast Carell and Dane Cook as brothers in a film that doesn't really utilize the type of comedy both are known for. That being said, I don't find Cook that funny but I do find him an interesting actor to watch, especially in his work in Mr. Brooks from earlier this year. Carell plays Dan, a successful newspaper advice columnist who packs up his girls for an annual extended weekend trip to his parent's (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) cabin in the woods. The entire clan of Dan's brothers, sisters, their kids and significant others shows up for the event, and the setting is right for characters to have countless heart-to-heart discussions about love, careers, death and the meaning of it all. Dan's heart is still shy after his wife's death, but while browsing at a local bookstore, he meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) and they end up talking for hours. It took me about three second to figure out that Dan's brother Mitch's yet-to-arrive new girlfriend is going to turn out to be Marie.

Dan and Marie spend much of the film dancing around the issue that they are attracted to each other but can do nothing since neither wants to hurt Mitch. But this simply makes Dan even more depressed and bitter, and creates awkwardness at every turn. Dan can't watch whenever Marie and Mitch get affectionate with each other, and Marie finds herself getting jealous when she and Mitch double-date with Dan and a blind date with an old high school acquaintance (Emily Blunt, in a brief but sexy turn). Blessedly, Dan in Real Life avoids most instances of wackiness and physical humor and opts instead to try to get to know its characters more than most comedies do. The writing here isn't particularly sharp or inspired but it provides a few choice laughs mixed in with its messages about getting on with life after a death and missed opportunities. The strong cast certainly elevates the material far beyond what's on the page without seeming like everyone is elbowing each other for punchlines and more screen time. By no definition of the word did I love this film, but it's an easy one to like in a platonic, non-committal way.

Lake of Fire

Think what you might about British director Tony Kaye (I'm guessing most of you don't have an opinion about the guy one way or another, or even know who he is), but by my measure he directed one of the finest and most disturbing films of the last decade, American History X. His ability to target the heart of any issue is astounding, and he holds a mirror up to the United States in ways that may infuriate and provoke you.

There are few issues (maybe no issues) that have divided this nation more over the last few decades than abortion, and what Tony Kaye has done with his exhaustive documentary Lake of Fire is given us the most comprehensive, evenly balanced look at not only the issue, but also at how deeply torn the nation has become as a result of the fight over reproductive rights.

The feelings that stem from this argument spread into all corners of the American fiber and have caused everything from ill will to outright assassination. Kaye does not so much provide a history of the debate (although we get some of that), but a snapshot of where we are now with this issue. And we seem no closer to the end of this debate today than we were when Roe vs. Wade was decided. Both sides have become more inflammatory, brazen and even dangerous about how they fight their fight, and Kaye presents a convincing case that this single issue is tearing us apart.

Never shying away from exactly what he's talking about, Kaye occasionally uses intensely graphic images (including showing two abortion procedures as well as a host of familiar photos of aborted fetuses) to lay out his film. Never seeming to take a side in the debate, Kaye gives what feels like equal time to both sides of the abortion fight. Of course, a few of the people he interviews on the pro-life side of the equation are linked with the murders of abortion doctors, white supremacist groups and domestic terrorists, so you draw your own conclusions from Kaye's inclusion of them in his film.

Many of these same people can't open their mouth without mentioned God and/or Jesus; so again, make what you can from that. Some of these men and women go so far as to say that doctors who perform abortions take the fetuses and barbeque them (!). On the other side, I was genuinely surprised how thinkers like Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz seem to understand that there is no right answer in this struggle, and that may be at the heart of why this is such a tough issue. How do you solve an issue that is beyond the realm of debate and negotiation? There is no middle ground on abortion, because both sides believe that if you give an inch, you lose the fight.

Some of the new footage in Lake of Fire dates back to the Clinton administration, including a sequence near the end of the film that follows a woman through every step of the abortion process, from getting picked up by the man who got her pregnant through the collection of her medical history and discussion of her options to the procedure itself and the brief recovery time followed by a brief but clearly painful breakdown. This might be the most powerful section of the 2.5-hour film, and watching it may solidify what your stance on this issue is.

Kaye's access and willingness to let both sides speak until they literally start repeating themselves is what separates this film from most other issue-oriented works of late. Shown in black-and-white (I'm guessing to make the blood-and-guts footage and photos a little less graphic), Lake of Fire will more than likely be interpreted differently by every set of eyes that watches it.

Your response will vary from that of the person sitting next to you, and it is that quality of this film that makes its impact so poignant and important. Kaye understands that the first step toward confronting an enemy productively is by seeing them as human and not some monster. Whatever side of the abortion issue you land on, you will not only see yourself but others in a new and hopefully less aggressive light. This is truly one of the great documentaries of this or any year. It opens this Friday for a two-week run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.


Mr. Untouchable

There's a little feature film coming out soon. Maybe you've heard of it. It's called American Gangster, and it's the true-life story of a man named Frank Lucas, who ruled the drug trade in New York City for much of the 1970s. Some newcomer named Denzel is playing the part. The stellar documentary Mr. Untouchable is essentially a prequel to American Gangster, telling the life story of Nicky Barnes, the original Black Godfather, who began the wholesale drug distribution network throughout New York and set the stage for Lucas, who was looked at as something of a punk rival during Barnes's reign.

Featuring interviews with many members of the Barnes inner circle, Mr. Untouchable (a nickname made famous by a New York Times Magazine cover story that marked the beginning of the end for Barnes) does a remarkable job of detailing the process Barnes took to fill the void of a reliable and relatively inexpensive drug supplier in the city and boroughs. As the first black man to ever do business directly with the Italian Mafia (which sold Barnes's organization the drugs directly), Barnes came from humble origins and slowly built himself a reputation as a man to be feared and respected. Director Marc (The Protocols of Zion) Levin's ultimately achievement here was to get an interview with the still-very-much-alive Barnes, who is now living comfortably in witness protection (he ratted out almost his entire organization for reasons I won't reveal here). We never see what he looks like today, but it's enough to see the cut of his suit jacket, his rings and the Cuban cigar he grips from time to time. He's sending a message even without seeing his face. Much like the recent Cocaine Cowboys, this film does a terrific job chronicling the glory days of being a drug lord and the rapid decline thanks to a combination of sampling his own product, living such a high-profile life and almost daring law enforcement to come get him.

I'm not going to lie, this is a fun film to watch. You can see the birthplace of what is now the hip-hop lifestyle and image. And for those of you old enough to remember when New York City was just a damn scary place to be in any neighborhood, Mr. Untouchable may bring you back to those thrilling days of yesteryear. More importantly, the life that Barnes and his crew led explains a lot about why there are no out-in-the-open drug lords in this country like there used to be. The film doesn't neglect to point out Barnes's contradictions, such as how he would frequently be extremely charitable around Harlem with food banks and the like, while pumping a never-ending quantity of poison into the community. Barnes's life is fascinating and one of the prime examples of a biography you couldn't make up if you tried. Director Levin has done a superb job translating the Barnes story to film, managing to both glorify the lifestyle while establishing it as the ultimate cautionary tale.


Music Within

I just like the idea of Ron Livingston as a lead of any film that's actually coming out in theaters, albeit on a slightly limited basis. The guy made such an impression on people in Office Space, and has since had some supporting work and a bunch of TV appearances (most notably an extended run on "Sex in the City" and his own canceled series "Standoff"). I think his best work was probably as Capt. Nixon on HBO's "Band of Brothers" and the recent episode of TNT's "Nightmares and Dreamscapes" he did with Henry Thomas. But I've never thought the guy has gotten a fair shake as an actor, despite the fact that he's been working steadily and pops up in the most interesting places. But Music Within is the kind of thing I want to see him doing more of. Bordering on a disease-of-the-weak/biopic/made-for-TV combo (but with way more bad language), the film tells the true-life story of Richard Pimentel (Livingston), a Vietnam vet who came home with major hearing loss and turned his plight (and those of other disabled persons) and his oratory skills into a years-long struggle to get the Americans With Disabilities Act made into law. Along his journey, he meets Art Honneyman (the remarkable Michael Sheen), a man with severe cerebral palsy who still manages to get off some truly sharp and often crude zingers when people treat him like a freak. The pair essentially barrel through their lives together, determined above all to make sure that every disabled person gets a fair shake at getting around and getting employed.

There's something irreverent and rebellious about Music Within, a kind of spirit that almost dares you not to like its characters. They certainly don't see themselves as heroes, so why should you? Melissa George passes in and out of Richard's life beginning with a love affair in college to well into his lobbying days, but the film's love story isn't nearly as interesting as the relationship between Richard and Art. Fortunately first-time feature director Steven Sawalich knows this, and splits the film's story primarily between the friendship between the two men and Richard's work on behalf of veterans and later the disabled. I know on the surface, this film seems like it has the potential to be infernally sappy, but the execution is much smarter than that. Both men are angry and damaged people who do this work to keep from exploding. The film doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel, but it does dress it up in ways we're not quite used to seeing. Dare I say, it may even qualify as edgy. More importantly, I hope that Music Within gets Livingston and Sheen as much attention as they deserve. They both deliver two memorable performances here that deserve attention even if the rest of the film drifts from your memory, which I'm hoping it won't.


Slipstream

I don't even know where to begin with this puppy. In what is technically his third feature as a director, (after a filmed one-man show about Dylan Thomas and his serene Uncle Vanya adaptation, August), Anthony Hopkins has pulled out both guns and maybe even a third at his boot heel and come out blazing with a psychotic stream of consciousness by the name of Slipstream. Seemingly taking its cues from recent David Lynch offerings, Hopkins' story of aging screenwriter Felix Bonhoeffer (played by himself) blurs and sometimes totally erases the lines between fantasy, reality, movies, real life, sleep, death, dream and complete mental meltdown to the point where I can barely tell you in conventional terms exactly what happens in this film. I'm fairly certain that characters from Bonhoeffer's scripts all start popping up in his real life, some of which are played by the same actors. Sometimes the dialog is very natural and believable; other times the characters are speaking in the style and rhythm of different genres, such as '50s sci-fi or '40s film noir.

Written by Hopkins, Slipstream pulls together an eclectic group of actors including Christian Slater, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Clarke Duncan, John Turturro, Fionnula Flanagan, Michael Lerner and Camryn Manheim, but my favorite appearance is by Kevin McCarthy as himself and as a version of the character he played in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film is referenced quite a bit here, and it's one of the few elements of this movie that I kind of understood…sort of…maybe. Hopkins and his team (I'm sure working with zero budget) have assembled a provocative and furiously edited piece with a soundscape that will probably creep you out with its intricacies. To try and make sense of the "plot" is pointless and unnecessary. Once you give yourself over to its hypnotic chaos, you might be able to appreciate its trippy charm. Or you'll think it's a colossal mess not worthy of being projected on the big screen. Or you might be like me and alternate between both thoughts as the movie progresses.

Hopkins is clearly going for the feel of an experimental film with the best cast any experimental film has ever had. Slipstream feels like the work of a much younger man. There's an energy and fearlessness to the work that is easy to admire. It's also terribly easy to despise. I think I fall somewhere strangely close to dead center. I couldn't wait to see what was coming next, but I almost wasn't impressed with what Hopkins cooks up. I guess this is a moderate recommendation for those of you who have convinced yourselves that you like something a little off the beaten trail. It's worth a glance at least.

GB store
 

About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to steve@steveatthemovies.com.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15