Category Archives: Film

“WILD THING”— An Urban Superhero

wild thing

“Wild Thing” 

An Urban Superhero

Amos Lassen

A child who witnesses drug dealers murder his parents, escapes and grows up wild in the city’s slums. Years later he emerges to help the residents of the area who are being terrorized by street gangs and drug dealers.

“Wild Thing” is an urban superhero (Robert Knepper) who lives in a ghetto and learns to speak by listening to disc jockeys. When we first see him, he’s the young child of hippie parents in the 1960s. They are killed by a drug dealer and a crooked cop, and the kid falls in a river, survives and is raised by a bag lady (Betty Buckley).

After she dies, he learns to survive by his wits, living off the land and staying in abandoned buildings. In the “Zone” where he prowls, his legend grows, especially among young black kids who consider him a sort of Robin Hood.

One day, a new face appears in the Zone. Jane (Kathleen Quinlan) is a social worker who has come to work with kindly old Father Quinn in his settlement house. The local druggies are the priest’s archenemies. In the Zone, it just so happens that that vice is controlled by the same drug dealer (Robert Davi) and the same cop who killed Wild Thing’s parents? This coincidence leads to a series of events predictable. There are all the usual confrontations, attacks, showdowns, mistaken identities and close calls before Wild Thing clears his name, makes up with his enemies and gets the girl.

John Sayles wrote the screenplay and Max Reid directed and they are talented people but something happened here that they lost hold of what they began. There is so much wasted promise here that was not used.

Sayles is responsible for some of the touches of wit and bizarre, offbeat characters in the movie and because of this, the movie is often a lot more fun than it might otherwise be. The real problem is the overuse of clichés. The plot is so predictable that there are no surprises. Another problem is that the movie was made for a PG-13 rating and that limited what could be seen and said.

“NED KELLY”— Mick Jagger as Outlaw

hrd kelly

“Ned Kelly”

Mick Jagger as Outlaw

Amos Lassen

Unable to support his family in the Australian outback, Ned Kelly (Mick Jagger) turns to stealing horses in order to make money. He gets more deeply drawn into the outlaw life, and eventually becomes involved in murders. Director Tony Richardson illustrates here the parallels between the American Old West and Australia of years past.

The film opens with a black and white prologue of Ned Kelly bravely going to his execution. Then it goes to Technicolor and Ned is seen in a flashback, coming home from jail after a three-year sentence. This scene is set in 1871. In the background we hear the voice of Waylon Jennings, as he sings Shel Silverstein’s lyrics, which tells of Ned’s hatred for the British rule and hope for Ireland to be a republic. Ned says a debt must be paid  and he hears voices from his dead father that along with his own conscience tell him to seek revenge for what happened in Ireland. Thus begins his life of crime through Australia’s outback as he seeks justice for all the wrongs his people have suffered.

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Ned begins by stealing horses after complaining about the unfair tax law on horses that stray, which favors the rich landowners. When he was just 20 he formed a gang causing him to hide the rest of his life from the police, who put a price on his head. When Ned’s mother (Clarissa Kaye) is jailed on a false charge of abetting criminals and is sentenced to 3-5 years, Ned offers to surrender in exchange for his mother’s freedom. When the authorities refuse the Kelly brothers go on a robbing rampage, burning mortgages of the poor found in postal vaults, and murdering some soldiers. Rampaging through the Outback they gather sympathy among the poor and lower classes, who don’t trust the police.

Kelly and his gang plan to ambush a train with British police, but someone Kelly trusted tips the police on the train and Kelly is trapped in a saloon. One of Ned’s brothers commits suicide rather than be taken alive. But Ned heroically has the police go after only him and his other brothers, as they become decoys so that the others in the gang can escape.

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I found the plot and the film to be somewhat flat. There was very little emotion. Jagger had to work with a very dry and unpolished script and somehow the focus on Australia failed.

This was a flat presentation, hardly touching an emotional button on what all the fuss was about over Ned Kelly’s call for justice. Jagger didn’t have a prayer in succeeding in this dry script offered by Ian Jones and Tony Richardson. The story failed to focus on Australia, seemingly more of a British film than Australian. Under Richardson’s lackluster direction all Jagger seemed to do was proclaim his innocence and vow revenge, which soon became a shrill cry. If you want to see a better film about Ned Kelly, catch “Mad Dog Morgan” (76), a much truer and more daring version, with Dennis Hopper giving a much better characterization of Ned Kelly’s madness.

Kelly was a petty Irish thief returned to his family (who immigrated to Australia) after three years in prison. Constant battles with the corrupt lawmen see Ned’s poor mother thrown in jail as payback, and that sets Ned and his brothers (previously just horse thieves and petty criminals) on a life of robbery and murder. They now feel persecuted by an unjust, British-ruled society. This of course, makes Ned and his gang folk heroes among the lower class, anti-authority elements of society.

Tony Richardson’s direction and script, on which he collaborated with Ian Jones, do not delve too deeply into character. Nor are the principals’ motivations projected with relevance to untutored American viewers. “Ned Kelly” is somewhat pretentious folk-ballad fare that often explains little more than its action.

Like Jesse James and family, Ned Kelly, his mother, brothers and sisters are depicted as wronged, poor Irish farmers harried by English landowners and constabulary. Freed, after an unjust, three-year prison term for horse stealing, Kelly and his boys, with prices on their heads, conduct a gory but eventually tragic campaign to free their kind from their oppressors.

Visually this is a beauty but poor Mick Jagger looks more like an Amish preacher than an outlaw and when he says in the film, “Such is life” before he is hanged, you know he is glad to be done with it.” This film is worth seeing for those who want to see what Mick Jagger looks like when sporting an Abe Lincoln beard.” He is just never convincing. I really wanted to like this movie but unfortunately as Jagger has sung “you can’t always get what you want”.

“KING OF THE GYPSIES”— Caught Between Forces

king of gypies

“King of the Gypsies”

Caught Between Forces

Amos Lassen

Eric Roberts is Dave, grandson of the aging gypsy King Zharko, who is chosen by him to lead the gypsy clan at his death. Dave’s only inclination is to join the American mainstream, but he knows that the mantle of gypsy power cannot be taken lightly or denied.

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This movie was suggested by a book Peter Maas. It tells the story of David Stepanowicz, a young man caught between three forces: his desire to renounce his gypsy roots, his father’s (Judd Hirsh) enmity, and his grandfather’s (Sterling Hayden) wish that he follow him as King of the Gypsies. He goes to New York City where the tries to have a life of his own but his mother (Susan Sarandon) calls upon him to save his sister (Brooke Shields) from an arranged marriage. Although he rescues her, she perishes in an automobile wreck caused by their enraged father. A final bloody encounter between the two men takes place after David is given a golden medallion and ring at his grandfather’s death.

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This film gives us a fascinating glimpse into the exotic folklore and lifestyle of the gypsies. Eric plays his first starring role he does so beautifully. Dave is a rebel in that he does not longer want to be a part of the gypsy clan that he was raised in and prefers to be a part of the American dream. However, when Dave’s grandfather Zharko (Sterling Hayden) lies dying in his hospital bed he gives a coveted medallion to Dave making him the new king of the gypsies. This sends Groffo, his father, into a jealous rage and orders two men to go out and kill Dave who now must elude them while trying to get his life together and help get his younger sister Tita (Brooke Shields) out of the clan as well.

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Frank Pierson directed this drama of a gypsy feud in modern-day New York. There was a lot of hype over “King of the Gypsies” but there was little audience interest in it. The film back then was being marketed as an examination of the gypsy culture, as well as some kind of pretender to the Godfather throne but unfortunately it fell flat. There have not been serious mainstream movies about gypsy/American life and this one was lumped with the other unsuccessful attempts.

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The film does not help us to understand anything about the gypsies because it is not sincere in its portrayal of it. What it shows is filtered through the same junk that has marked Hollywood depictions of other “exotic” cultures through the decades. In “King of the Gypsies”, the gypsies are always dancing or singing or scamming or fighting. We do not get a real sense of who and what they are as a people, as a culture.

“NO ORDINARY HERO: THE SUPERDEAFY MOVIE”— To Believe in Oneself

 

no ordinary hero

“NO ORDINARY HERO: THE SUPERDEAFY MOVIE”

To Believe in Oneself

Amos Lassen

In Troy Kotsur’s “No Ordinary Hero”, we meet Tony Kane (John Maucere) , a deaf actor who plays a superhero on a TV show. In real life he is no superhero but just another guy who happens to be deaf, with hopes and dreams that always seem to elude him. Eight-year-old Jacob Lang (Zane Hencker) is also deaf and has a hard time in school, where he is torn between what his father thinks is “normal” and an education using sign language promoted by his mother. When Tony and Jacob’s paths cross, they inspire belief in each other and in themselves. And when Tony meets Jacob’s teacher, Jenny, a romance blossoms that suddenly makes Tony feel like he can do anything… even things he never dreamed was possible.

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Here is a film that celebrates diversity and seeks to inspire, but it does so in a realistic way as many of the laughs involving Kane do center around the many challenges he faces living his daily life in a world that doesn’t always understand those who appear to be “different.”

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At the same time that Kane struggles, the film gives us, Jacob, a young boy who is deaf and struggling to keep up at school – at least partially because his father (James Leo Ryan) insists he learn lip reading rather than American Sign Language. While dad means well, his insistence that his son not be seen as “different” leads to Jacob’s increasing struggles at schools academically and socially.

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The film reflects the real world and portrays disability through a largely healthy lens that should open the doors to honest conversations for parents and children. While the filmmaking here isn’t particularly innovative, it effectively creates entertaining and has characters that keep us watching the film from beginning to end. Marlee Matlin has a brief presence but it is important and effective. It’s also a sign that the actress, herself deaf, recognizes the value in the film’s message and believes it to be presented well.

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Maucere and Hencker do a nice job here, portraying with honesty and authenticity the challenges of being deaf in a largely hearing culture while never presenting their characters as “disabled’ by their disability. As one might expect, the film does occasionally tug at the heartstrings. This is a family friendly film that celebrates. the differences that exist between us.

“A GESAR BARD’S TALE”— From Bard to Shaman

a gesar bard's tale

“A GESAR BARD’S TALE”

From Bard to Shaman

Amos Lassen

“A Gesar Bard’s Tale” is feature-length documentary by Donagh Coleman and Lharigtso that chronicles Dawa’s evolution from bard to shaman. We go to Tibet in the immediate aftermath of a severe earthquake, where we meet Dawa, a bard famous for his spirited telling of the epic story of Tibet’s King Gesar. Dawa got work for the Chinese government as a guardian of national cultural heritage. But after the earthquake almost destroyed his village, Dawa saw the Chinese accelerate their local redevelopment project and he began to wonder how the lessons of antiquity could offer guidance for the rapidly changing world that surrounds him.

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Dawa, who rose from a life as an illiterate nomad to become a highly respected holy man and guardian of Tibet’s cultural heritage, and provided spiritual guidance after his community was leveled by natural disaster. As a boy, Dawa’s life consisted of herding yaks and that was all he thought he would ever do. But then when he was just 13, he had a series of visions and his life changed. Somehow he had acquired the ability to tell the story of Tibet’s king, Gesar. Now, at the age of 35, he is paid by the government to be a guardian of national cultural heritage and is regarded as a holy man by his community. When an earthquake reduces his hometown to rubble, redevelopment of the region takes a giant leap forward. In the midst of such seismic shifts, Dawa seeks healing from King Gesar and other divine protectors of the land in order to reconcile the destruction of his community through his traditional role as healer, guide, and shaman.

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Stories like this are difficult for many of us to understand are believe but here we have the story right in front of us. Visually the film is a feast for the eyes and everything about it will make you want to consider making Tibet a vacation spot.

“BEST OF ENEMIES”— Vidal and Buckeley

best of enemies

“Best of Enemies”

Vidal and Buckley

Amos Lassen

In 1968, two intellectuals participated in a televised series of debates on issues of the day. On one side was the liberal Gore Vidal, renowned author and iconoclast and on the other was the conservative trailblazer William F. Buckley Jr. These “vitriolic and explosive encounters came to define the modern era of public discourse in the media, marking the big bang moment of our contemporary media landscape when spectacle trumped content and argument replaced substance”. “Best of Enemies” looks at the biographies of these two great thinkers as well as at the debates and the question arises, “What has television done to the way we discuss politics in our democracy today?”

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Back then, ABC ranked third among the major networks and decided to try something different for their upcoming coverage of the 1968 presidential conventions and that was to hire ideological enemies William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal to summarize the issues in a nightly debate. For ten debates, the two men insulted each other and attempted character assassinations instead of dealing with the political issues of the day and America tuned in. The end came with Vidal calling Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” and Buckley threatening to punch Vidal in the face on live TV. Documentarians Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville brings together footage from the debates and gives us the complete context around the media event. This is where the victory of volume and rage over civilized discourse began.

As the two determined men set to do battle, some of their writings are read off-camera by John Lithgow as Vidal and Kelsey Grammer as Buckley. We see archival footage of Vidal’s Italian villa, with him giving a tour of his bathroom and this immediately creates an interesting touch right from the start. Vidal proudly points to photographs hanging over the bathtub that show him with Buckley at the Democratic Convention debate in Chicago in 1968. ABC network was seriously ailing and so the network powers invited Buckley and Vidal to debate live on television to boost their ratings during both national political conventions, starting with the Republicans in Miami Beach.

Aside from the footage of the debates, there are fascinating on-camera interviews with Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomsky and Dick Cavett. The ninth debate was the one in which Vidal calls Buckley a “pro-or crypto-Nazi” and Buckley looses his cool, uttering the response that was to define him for the rest of his life and beyond: “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face, and you’ll stay plastered. Then Vidal smiles the smile of a winner. It was this moment that brings a series of questions “about television culture, about the craft of insult to trigger a reaction, about the nature of enmity, about the character of time”.

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The late Christopher Hitchens calls the aftermath of the debates, in both lawsuits and magazine articles by both of the men, an “enormous opportunity for the practice of malice.” Reid Buckley, says about his brother Bill that “most of all, he is a revolutionary.” The debates, were and still are in a way about “lifestyle” and “who is the better person.” We learn about how Buckley was at sea, relaxing on a yacht, and ready to wing the debates and Vidal hired a researcher to prepare him before the first debate.

“TANGERINES”— The Horrors of War

tangerines

“TANGERINES”

The Horrors of War

Amos Lassen

Zaza Urushadze’s “Tangerines” was nominated for the Best Foreign Film in 2015 for both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe. It is set in the Apkhazeti region of Georgia in 1992 and it carries a powerful anti-war message. Local Apkhazians are fighting to break free from Georgia. The Estonian village between the mountains has become empty– almost everyone has returned to their homeland, and only two men have stayed: Ivo and Margus. But Margus will leave as soon as he has harvested his crops of tangerines. In a bloody conflict in their miniature village wounded men are left behind, and Ivo is forced to take them in.

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The wounded men are from opposite sides of the war and they portray the message of the horrors of war. Here we see Estonians who find themselves in the middle of someone else’s war. How do they handle it? How do the enemies act under third-party roof?

The horrors of war are quietly and powerfully examined in the film that is simplistic in execution and that comes from an obscure enough location so that the message of the horrors of war is disguised.

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Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Estonian populace was driven out and forced to return to return to their native region. Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) stayed behind alone, helping his neighbor Margus (Elmo Nuganen) valiantly struggle to harvest his crop of tangerines. Two Chechen soldiers pay a surprise visit to Ivo and are almost immediately shot down during a gun battle with Russians outside Margus’ estate.

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Ahmed (Giorgio Nakashidze) is seriously wounded, and Ivo takes him into his home while burying his comrade and doing his best to cover up their vehicle. As the men shove the truck over a cliff, Margus is surprised it doesn’t explode like in the movies—Ivo responds that “Cinema is a big fraud.” Soon after, more explosions kill several Georgians, and Ivo takes in the very badly wounded Nika (Mikhail Meskhi). Ahmed vows to kills Nika as soon as they’re both recovered, leading Ivo to make Ahmed promise that there will be no violence under his roof. As the men recover, their sworn hatred is tempered by the realization that they’re both humans deserving of the right to live. Think about that—humans deserve the right to live.

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Here we see that the film is about brotherhood during wartime after a shootout leaves two men alive. Ivo takes them in; one is Ahmed, a Chechen mercenary, whose intent is to kill the other, Nika, a surviving Georgian. Ivo serves as the pacifist go-between, eventually getting each of the men to agree that neither will seek violence against the other while under Ivo’s roof. Each character eventually understands that their pursuits of violence along national boundaries is but an arbitrary form of hatred that is founded in a dogmatic adherence to militaristic procedure. Religion also comes into the story. Ahmed assures Ivo that his vengeance is “a holy thing,” but the film only postures toward this suggestion by giving us glimpses of characters praying and contemplating their plights without further pursuits of each man’s core beliefs.

Then there is a scene in Ivo and Margus push a jeep from a cliff in order to hide that a recent firefight took place. When the vehicle fails to explode, Margus remarks how, in the movies, cars always explode, leading Ivo to say that “the cinema is one big cheat.” The relationships we have here were forged through isolation and hardship. Previously opposing soldiers see their constituent humanity amid the threats of Chechen outsiders.

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Ivo’s home becomes the catalyst for unity between the men who eventually realize that identity is more about character than rather than nationality and ethnicity. A shootout, however defends honor over creed.

“Tangerines” balances humor and seriousness in deft fashion and the film has emotional force and intelligence to show us the terrible things that happen during wartime and this is a film with a strong message. The cinematography is lush and beautiful, the performances are all around excellent. The beautiful landscapes that we see were filmed in the western Georgia region of Guria.

“FIFTY SHADES OF GREY”— OY VEY!!!!

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“Fifty Shades Of Grey”

OY VEY!!! Did I Miss Something?

Amos Lassen

Some o you have asked about my opinion of the film of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I am not sure that I actually have one because I am not sure that I saw much to review in the film. It really makes no difference what critics or anyone had to say about it, it is going to make money just because of its name. Now I know that I sat down to watch it but I am just not sure of what I saw. Perhaps I was blinded by the hype. What I do know is that it is about a young, naïve virgin named Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who is sent to interview the handsome billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after her , a journalist, becomes ill. Christian is drawn to Anastasia from the first moment he saw her and goes after her in the only way that he knows how. Christian does not do girlfriends and neither does he have romance or human emotions and he insists that we understand that about him. where he is very adamant that he doesn’t do the girlfriend thing, or romance, or indeed typical human emotions.

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Anastasia finds him intriguing probably because he is fabulously wealthy but when she discovers that he is dominant and wants Anastasia to sign her name on a contract that gives him to write to use her in any he wants and as his S&M sexual plaything as well as control nearly every aspect of her life for his own pleasure she is no sure she wants to submit in this way. It was at this point that I began to laugh and could not stop although I must admit that because I did not have to pay to see this film, I came out ahead no matter what. When the film moved from absurdity to serious business (I suppose that is what that is), I found it to be a very disturbing movie.

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. Exactly what did Christian do for Anastasia that would make her give up her own freedom for him and ultimately be unhappy to the point of misery? It would be interesting to see how the modern feminist movement reacts to a woman giving up her all for a man who only is concerned about his own sexual pleasure. The idea of using women is all the way through, that women like to be objects just as long as their partner wants to possess but not hurt them. but not hurt them. For a film that claims to be about female sexuality, this is a movie about a man who is concerned only with his own pleasure but if she enjoys it, who is he to begrudge her that? I rest my case.

“I AM FEMEN”— A Revealing Look at Female Activists

i am femen

“I AM FEMEN”

A Revealing Look at Female Activists

Amos Lassen

Director Alain Margot gives us a look at the “topless female activists who fight corrupt and patriarchal political systems in Kiev and all across Europe as well. These women have used their bodies and their breasts as weapons and protests on the streets of Kiev where the group first began and now they are protesting all over Europe.

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Oxana Shachko, the leader and backbone of the group has always been fascinated by religious artwork and as a teenager, she considered entering a convent and devoting herself to iconography. However, her mother convinced her to change her mind and she now has been using herself, her body and her talents on Femen and has been leading a life of activism. This is her story but she shares it with other brave women who tell their stories as well. These women have put their bodies on the front line in the fight for justice and equality. As one critic put it, “More than just exposing breasts, these women are exposing ideas.”

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The film follows Oxana, as she prepares for protests, speaks about her life before the group, and deals with the repercussions that come from their demonstrating. She is amazingly intelligent, a very talented artist, and exudes passion for her cause. This is not easy since in every group there will be dissension and arguments about the way she handles protests especially going topless to get attention but this does get their message across. Oxana has incredible strength and nothing can hold her back even the fear of arrest or possibly murdered. The protests that she stages are difficult places and to protest there requires courage and strength. Oxana has pure intentions and she says what she thinks as she fights for rights. She is not just fighting for herself but for all people.

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Oxana is twenty-eight-years-old and from a provincial town called Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine. She is the narrator of the film. The film is subtle and has some important things to say about the rights of women. The protests that we see here took place in the Ukraine and in France and we learn that Femen was the result of three woman—Oxana, Anna Hutsol and Alexandra Shevchenko. The organization was founded in 2008 and is now an international women’s movement. The film is, as I said, subtle and fascinating in every aspect.

“SOAKED IN BLEACH”— The Death of Kurt Cobain

soaked in bleach

“Soaked in Bleach”

The Death of Kurt Cobain

Amos Lassen

Director Benjamin Statler says of this new movie, “Soaked in Beach” that “Half of the film is made up of cinematic recreations of private investigator Tom Grant’s investigation in 94′ incorporating actual audio recordings, while the other half of the film is interviews with Tom Grant and some of the world’s top experts in the respective areas of the case. The recreations served the purpose of helping people to see how the investigation actually unfolded and to better appreciate the context of certain situations.  The interviews provide the objective scientific facts involved in the case of Kurt Cobain’s death and back up what Tom Grant has been saying for 20 plus years.”

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Grant was hired by Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love in 1994 to find in 1994 and this was just a few days before his dead body was found at Cobain’s and Love’s home in Seattle. Cobain’s death was ruled a suicide by the police (a reported self-inflicted gunshot wound), but there have been about this for twenty years now and especially so by Grant who conducted his own investigation, Grant was able to determine that there was enough empirical and circumstantial evidence to conclude that foul play could very well have occurred. The film develops as a narrative mystery with cinematic re-creations, interviews with key experts and witnesses and the examination of official artifacts from the 1994 case.

Grant remains convinced that Kurt Cobain was murdered and he admits that he has always been suspicious of Courtney Love and her role in her husband’s death. Because of this gut feeling, Grant made sure to record his conversations with Love.

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Those tapes are part of this film. The movie supplements the tapes with talking head interviews and reenactments and like Grant, director Statler goes after Love and attempts to pin a motive on her for possibly being involved in Cobain’s death.

This is a documentary that will most likely re-enliven the debates that have surrounded Cobain’s death and give Love’s enemies reason to despise her. Love and her fans will see this film as heretical, however. The film’s goal is to blow the lid off the lingering conspiracy theory.

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First we’re presented with Grant’s back-story as a member of the LA County Sherriff’s Department, a job he left to start his own private investigator firm. We learn that Grant left the department in good standing and had an impeccable record.

A good deal of the evidence the film presents are recorded phone calls between Grant and Love, as well as Love’s entertainment lawyer Rosemary Carroll. However, nobody that is even tangentially related to the case gives any corroboration to whether or not these calls are authentic. any of these recordings’ authenticity. People such as Carroll and Dylan Carlson, a friend of Cobain’s who was also the registered owner of the shotgun that killed Cobain, do not participate in the movie in any manner, even though they’re supposed to be the keys to what really happened. The reenactments give the film with a bit of unintentional humor and make the whole thing look supercilious.

Statler tries to take on the typical counter-arguments to their lies and they speak to Cobain’s friends but there is no evidence that the people we see and hear were ever tied to him. These interviews are used to illustrate that Kurt Cobain was more upbeat than believed. Combined with a couple of interviews from ’93 and ’94, they attempt to prove that Kurt Cobain was not depressed. It makes perfect sense if you believe that somebody who was depressed would never just say they’re fine. There had also been a suicide attempt in Rome months before his death but here we see that is just regarded as an accidental overdose.

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So what is the importance of this film? It seems to me that this is simply based on too many false leads but nonetheless it is a fascinating look at the case. Just because the film was made does not mean that all of it is necessarily true.