TBT: Almost Famous (2000)

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As Will Smith notes in Independence Day, it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. And while I knew, deep down, there would not be any fat lady singing to indicate this feature had truly ended, I also knew there was no way I could stop doing these posts. It’s the longest-running feature on the blog! Fortunately I have, in my estimation, something kind of important to talk about to jumpstart the conversation about films from years past. And it is actually one I am lifting from this Top That! list I had posted a little while ago, which you can check out here. Okay. I think that’s enough links for one intro.

Today’s food for thought: Almost Famous.

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Following Stillwater since: September 22, 2000

[Netflix]

Even though it’s kind of a bummer, it really does make sense. Rock stars are cool and rock journalists are . . . not. I wonder what that says about film critics, about those who try hard to be included in the spotlight but never will — doomed to remain tantalizingly on the fading edge of the spotlight while trying their damnedest to understand that which they are covering for their stories in an effort to perhaps better understand themselves.

In Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s turn-of-the-century (millennium, actually) film about a young aspiring journalist who stumbles into the industry only to haphazardly fall back out of it after following a fictitious rock band around the U.S. in an attempt to get his first cover story published, Crowe was confessing several things.

First, the obvious (and quite cliché): fame ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Patrick Fugit, billed as William Miller but clearly miming Cameron Crowe at age 15 when he himself was contributing articles to Rolling Stone magazine while still attending high school, learns this the hard way. When a rock critic he greatly admires sends him on his first professional assignment to cover headliner Black Sabbath, William inadvertently gets swept up in the experiences — many thrilling and others not so much — shared by the members of Stillwater with whom he forms a bond during their 1973 American tour.

Second, if Almost Famous was even close to an accurate rendering of some of his experiences, then writing about rock’n roll was the gig to get, despite bitterness frothing in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cautionary monologues bookending William’s adventure. “Don’t befriend the bands you meet . . . ” (whoops); “You will never be as cool as a rock’n roll celebrity. People like us, we’re not cool.” If the relationship between Crowe and Rolling Stone taught him anything, it’s how to write a great screenplay. Perhaps the transition into writing movies was less a stepping stone as it was inevitable, the precursor to actually being cool.

And of tertiary importance: if you were a die-hard rock fan, the 70s must have been a rough ride. Band leaders Russell (Billy Crudup) and Jeff (Jason Lee) take center stage in representing Stillwater on and off the tour bus, naturally, as the two lead guitarists. The pair exhibit varying levels of enthusiasm over having a journalist along for their tour as they have serious concerns about how their image may be affected when William (a.k.a. “the enemy”) publishes his story. Struggling to maintain relevance in an era of ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’ and Dancing Queens the members are keen on steering William in the direction they wanted his writing to take them, which is to say, towards the limelight of bigger stages.

Almost Famous is uncanny in many ways but it truly excels in creating tension between personal and professional goal-setting. New band managers entering the fold add to Stillwater’s misery; an air of distrust and uncertainty surrounding the wide-eyed journalist’s intentions thickens as time passes. Then toss Stillwater groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson, iconic) into the mix as Russell’s ex and the first to take an interest in William at the Black Sabbath concert, and suddenly the lives of rock journalist and professional rock band don’t seem so incongruous. It’s the warning Hoffman’s Lester Bangs was providing all along.

Crowe may have tapped into the zeitgeist of the 70s music scene, but he also struck a deeper chord. This was something of a personal journey for him and it would be a mistake to think, despite how good Patrick Fugit is — hell, how good any of the members of this sprawling ensemble are — Almost Famous served primarily as an actor’s showcase. This learning experience is tinged with pain, nostalgia, envy, regret, sorrow, elation. The cast sublimely navigate these emotions in a story that begs to be revisited time and again. For all of these reasons and more, Crowe’s fourth directorial effort has been rightfully regarded as a classic.

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4-5Recommendation: An almost perfect film experience, watch Almost Famous for the nostalgia, for the music (there are 50 credited songs used here), for the performances, for the Philip Seymour Hoffman performance (who was sick the entire time), for the plane scene, for Penny Lane — for all of it. If Almost Famous doesn’t appeal, music dramas are clearly not your cup of tea. And I guess, that’s cool too . . . 

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

TBTrivia: A literal coming-of-age story: Patrick Fugit’s voice apparently broke (deepened) during the making of Almost Famous.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com

Margaret

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Release: Friday, September 30, 2011 (limited)

[Redbox]

Though the movie has no disclaimer, you should probably bring along your psychologist to this one, since you’ll be in need of immediate therapy after watching Margaret, a highly emotional, lengthy film about a girl who’s attempting to rectify her involvement in a horrific traffic accident.

Don’t let the title throw you. Anna Paquin (True Blood)actually plays the moody protagonist Lisa Cohen, a relatively wealthy New York City teen, daughter of a somewhat successful stage actor (played by J. Smith-Cameron). One day she’s out searching for the perfect cowboy hat and then sees a Metropolitan Transit Authority driver wearing one. In the light of day, surely it would have been easier to just get on the bus and ask him where he got it, but then, we’d have no story. Rather, she frantically tries to keep pace with the slow-moving bus, waving at the driver (Mark Ruffal0) and signaling to his head. With his eyes on Lisa and not the road, the driver blows a red light and strikes a crossing pedestrian. We’re left with a scene of agony, blood and the turn of the movie. The first twenty minutes will shock you.

However, I have no clue how the film then stretched out for another 130. Click here to read about some of the issues it had with the TRT.

After the wreck, we are presented with thorough day-in-the-life scripture. We get to know her home life is not all that great; that her father is distant, living off odd jobs in the Hollywood grind (presumably), and we know she likes to flirt. We meet her schoolteachers: Matt Damon playing the sympathetic geometry teacher who ultimately takes some wrong angles with one of his students; Matthew Broderick as an English instructor not quite in control of his classroom. Among peers, Lisa’s intelligent, proactive and in possession of a great scholarship.

But it all comes apart at the seams after the accident, and her emotional turmoil tightens its grip not only around Lisa’s, but our throats. Turning to adults for advice instead of close friends and even her own mother, Paquin does an excellent job portraying Lisa’s precocious nature; she’s awkward, and hellishly aggressive in trying to privately assess her role in the death of Monica. However, as the implications of her unique circumstances begin to bear more practical relevance (cops, lawyers, families, etc), we also start to feel a bit repelled by it all.

It’s right around the time Lisa decides she will change her statement to local police about how the accident happened, that we notice a change in our lead role here. Originally claiming that the driver had the right-of-way because the signal was green, Lisa needs the truth to come out so justice can be done. But the further into the movie we venture —  that is to say, the deeper we go into her mind — the more abrasive and downright unpleasant Lisa is, and it becomes more difficult to empathize.   While it’s clear the reasons why we tire of her “stridence” (a bomb she drops on Emily, lifelong friend of the dead woman, during one of several severe verbal confrontations), the emotional fragility of this young girl simply overwhelms the picture — leaving us stranded in our seats, fighting for our heart rates to calm down. You’re not meant to be strung out in a movie, in my opinion, but this one certainly will recede the hairline a little.

While there is a fitting resolution, it is not a pleasant one at all. Lisa and her mother Joan are viewing an opera. The weight of the last weeks of Lisa’s life culminate in a breakdown in the theatre, and the two embrace before credits roll. It all ends quietly, as if the movie itself had finally just, … given up. And what do we end up with?

The wrongful death suit settlement they desired after withering the legal procedures and that had consumed Lisa’s, well, for all intents and purposes — her entire being — was worth $350K but that wasn’t enough for either of them. They wanted him gone from the transportation services, but that didn’t happen either due to a conflicting labor dispute among MTA members.

No. In the end there was hope for the reconnect of Lisa with her mother, as they both wept and seemed to be closer together for the first time all movie. But as far as shedding the burden carried by both herself and Emily, it seemed to be rather hopeless.

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2-5Recommendation: I wasn’t a fan, but then again, I don’t think I could kick it on the streets of New York City in the first place.

Rated: R

Running Time: 149 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com