Friday, May 28, 2010
Be Kind Rewind
The following column is reprinted from the February issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):
Rewind # 1: Iron Man 2 is most obviously a sequel, the more full-bodied follow-up to the streamlined Marvel Comic actioneer that took audiences by storm in 2008, an entertainingly schizoid movie that works hard to deliver some more snack, crackle and pop for the multitudes of fan boys. The cool thing is that actor/director Jon Favreau almost subversively pumps some real directorial charm and panache to the non-action scenes, almost to the point of emasculating the go-for-the-popcorn high-tech effects, comic book clashes, and over-the-top spectacle. Audiences seem to be responding well once again, upping the possibility that if Favreau goes for another shot at the franchise, it might be the most gonzo Part 3 yet.
The movie is extremely shiny and tempered, but the overt story and the CGI spectacles take a certifiable second place to theatrics and repartee among the movie’s big name part-playing population, beginning with the rapid fire mumbling oratory of Robert Downey and his time-warping charm. Downey’s a true propellant contemporary movie star, and the narcissistic air of a nervy capitalist suits him exquisitely, delivering each new bombastic comic book line with a curry-and-par swipe and a hilariously provocative aplomb. Downey is so right on as the guy without the suit, that each of the movies suffers a bit each time the super hero metallic duds are donned and his twisty yapper gets hidden away.
Favreau is an actor’s director, and he allows all of his principles to follow Downey’s animated flow, causing actual sparks to fly in Downey’s sideways exchanges with an impeccably subtle Gwyneth Palthrow and an appropriately campy (and comely) Scarlett Johansson, much of it coolly conjuring up the patented stylings of screwball comedy. The sharp repartee and the heightened dialogue is also neatly bandied about by such nifty scene stealers as Don Cheadle as good buddy and sidekick, Samuel Jackson as a robustly macho military man, fave rave scene-chewer Mickey Rourke as Russian baddie with a cockatoo, and secret weapon Sam Rockwell as perhaps the drollest comic book villain so far, all of them trading barbs, eye-rolling, and put-downs with sleek fervor. Iron Man 2 doesn’t mean much of anything, and doesn’t purport to, it simply swaggers its way to the finish line, providing some first class diversion between the sound of metal clanking and things blowing up.
Rewind # 2: Like most knee-bending worshippers to the altar of rock and roll, I can’t resist a rock doc, and I’ve probably screened a few dozen of them. The vast majority traffic in broken dreams, past glories, druggy excesses, psychological afflictions, rise and falls, or just plain ascensions to rock and roll nirvana. It’s a Bash!, a new rock doc that chronicles the story of Attleboro-formed and Providence-made Neutral Nation, operates with a decidedly alternative mind set, unwinding as a true life tale of infectious rock and roll spirit, ongoing camaraderie, and working class pluck.
Director David Bettencourt (rapidly becoming a local filmmaker of some note, responsible for two highly credible prior works, You Must Be This Tall: The Story of Rocky Point Park and On the Lake: Life and Love in a Distant Place), does a wonderful job recreating the resolutely typically tale of the band’s movement from in-yer-face noise-makers to beloved local music scene headliners, gathering some smartly reflective and self aware talking heads footage from the individual band members (particularly Mike Yarworth, Tom Buckland, and Dave Chabot), and handsomely piecing together the Providence/ Living Room spawned scene of punk and indie rock.
Of course, I spent a whole lotta of my time embedded in that very scene during my youthful glory days, and the film helps prove that Neutral Nation were indeed something special, regular guys who, in their heyday, conveyed an ever widening sense of New England tribal inclusiveness and a constantly burgeoning down-to-earth craftsmanship, making a particular mark as one of those special bands with a whom audiences want to share a sensibility, a song, and a beer. Whether you catch the documentary, or catch the boys live at one of their perpetual reunion shows, you’ll never have to worry about Neutral Nation delivering the goods, with passion, verve, and some crooked smiles.