Sundance 2014: Day 1, Lambert and Stamp, Return to Homs, and No No Review


Sundance - my annual opportunity for culture and intellectual inspiration. This year I will make one post for each day, the movies seen that day. Day One: Alicia's next door neighbor scored me some tickets, but the first movie for the day was a pickup, and we used the new eWaitlist system to get decent numbers for Lambert and Stamp - a movie recommended by Alicia. "WE", in this case, is me and my niece Rylin who recently moved to Salt Lake City to finish up her Physical Therapy Masters degree, and who was my hostess with the mostess for the trip.  (AND I get a PT session out of it).

So we ran up to Park City and... did we have good numbers? I don't remember. But a guy showed up in line selling tickets and we hopped right on it, and were IN!




Great movie and totally fascinating. How did the High Numbers, one of a thousand or more garage R&B bands working around Britain in the early 1960's, become The Who?

The answer is Kit and Chris, two unlikely wanna-be movie producers, who took The Who under their wing, supported them, shaped their stage act, their music and their selves, and extended their expected three year band period before becoming functioning members of society to FORTY YEARS! These guys "supported" the lads by teaching them how to hustle at a much higher level than they previously were capable of. Pete Townsend STILL doesn't pay for wine.

I don't do it justice. The story is amazing. Funny, touching, funny...  I suppose it helps to know how the story ends up, but, let's just say, Kit and Chris are charming, vexing, selfish, generous, beautiful and flawed - and ultimately the characters the movie is built around. I see reviews that say this is a bio pic about the WHO. No, it's not. It is about Kit and Chris and the amazing thing they did for perhaps all the wrong the reasons. But it worked, and we got The Who! Eventually, well, it goes to shit, of course. First it goes to Tommy, and then they have a whole bunch of money, and then it goes to shit. This is rock and roll, lots of drugs involved, and not everyone survived. 50% actually.

Long interviews with Chris, Pete and Roger keep the whole thing together and moving crisply. The Who are not one of my main/top groups, so I did not know much of their back story, which is entirely irrelevant to enjoying this movie.

The future for this movie?  It's good, should sell easily to HBO or something - I don't remember anything being announced.

Review at Variety

The Blurb at Sundance


This was the start of this year's theme - VIOLENCE!



There's a war going on in Syria, remember?  A brutal dictator against perhaps 60% of the population of his country. Unfortunately, he has enough men and resources to make this a long, drawn-out affair, and enough men and resources to make it essentially impossible for anyone playing Global Policeman to jump in and take him out. It's complicated.

But this film is not. War is brutal. War is sick. War is not pretty at all. This film by Talal Derkai is raw, visceral. You can practically smell the smoke and carnage. Amazing that he was able to put together a pretty good film in, shall we say, 'difficult conditions'. As in, most of the people shown in the film are dead by now. Talal himself is now an outlaw. Yes, the film is from the rebels point of view -- films, stories have points of view. We follow Syrian National Soccer Team goalie Basset from a local celebrity at 19; to a peaceful-protest leader, rallier, activist; to an on-the-ground rebel militia leader, trying to save the city of Homs.  The city used to have 650,000 people (about the same as Salt Lake) living in it; two years later the city is mostly rubble, and the lastest report is about 3000 people are holding out in the old district, mostly women and children, the poorest of the poor, who had no place to flee to when the opportunity was available.



But I digress. Yes, there is lots of gritty footage. Incoming bullets, people getting shot by snipers, etc. What comes through is the patriotism of the characters followed, their stubborn grit. Yes, perhaps a hopeless cause, it seems. It's pretty clear most of the rebel fighters shown that are still alive are unlikely to survive long enough to see the fall of Assad. It's also clear at this point that it is just not possible to yield an inch to the brutal dictator...  reminds me of this line:  "... we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."  This is the narrative arc that carries the movie.

New tools have allowed high-quality work to be done under horrendous conditions, and to come to "press" much much faster than in previous years. The last footage in this film was shot last November, less than 90 days ago. Our hero Basset is back inside Homs, if he is still alive or, I guess, even if not. Q and A with the director was also good, though it is amazing the stupid questions some people ask. After spending 90 minutes in this film, you ask that? Really? Talal used to string video / stories for Reuters etc, but in the last six months, he was told that Assad bombing civilians was no longer interesting; what they wanted was stuff about the in-fighting between Al Queda groups and the Free Syrian Army - which has nothing to do with Homs. That is the current "story" for the western press - they are not so interested in what is actually going on on the ground.

Not a good date movie.

Even if you are into the S&M thing, I bet.



War on Terror?  This is what a terrorist looks like, plain and simple:



Picked up a late movie in Park City, thankfully somewhat more cheery:

NO NO: a Dockumentary



Dock Ellis - interesting character.

The "click-bait" is that he pitched a no-hitter on acid. That is part of the story, but only a small part.  (NO-NO => no runs, no hits - ie, a no-hitter. He gave up a bunch of walks and hit batsmen, but...)

His rampant drug use is part of the story, perhaps the warp, baseball being the weft. He pitched 1968-1979 and led the Pirates to a World Series Championship in 1971 (and to the World Series with the hated Yankees in 1976). It's pretty clear that everyone was using speed when they played (for the focus!), as in pretty much everyone in the majors. Though Dock Ellis took it to another level - but more on that later...

Dock was a clubhouse leader, a team leader. In these years, the big thing he did was vocally no longer put up with the racist BS in MLBaseball. Which was a big thing in breaking down the racism in baseball. He was fearless, and no big surprise this resulted in big things both good and bad.

Up and down, the life of a big league pitcher. Up and down, the life of a heavy drug user. Eventually, he got to down and down, entered rehab, and got sober. The rest of his life was using his status as a former MLB pitcher to talk about the dangers of drugs to kids, and did a lot of counselling of people in the rehab process.

Great movie, well done, well-edited. Good story arc. Lots of tales from teammates and opponents, and other people in Dock's life. Dock died of liver failure in 2008, so not much from him. It might help if you love baseball to like the movie, but I don't think it is required, since the movie is not about baseball, it is about a remarkable human being, and a remarkable journey.