This has been a phenomenal year for music documentaries. After the earlier success of "Searching for Sugar Man" (a Criticwire Pick) and "Shut Up and Play the Hits" (also worth a mention), another music-based retrosepctive lands in theaters this week. But where those films profiled individuals looking for peace and closure from earlier stages of their lives, this week's pick looks at a man whose personality may actually prohibit him from ever truly settling down.
The Pick: If reviews are any indication, "Beware of Mr. Baker" should grab you right from the beginning. Most reviews mention the opening salvo caught on camera between subject (world-renowned drummer and all-around king of debauchery Ginger Baker) and director (the apparently fearless Jay Bulger). According to several reviews, the general sense of antagonism directed at least one way throughout most of the movie ends up beings one of the film's assets, rather than grating or repetitive. In fact, Philadelphia Weekly's Matt Prigge argues that, if anything, Bulger tries too hard to make us forgive Baker's previous alienating behavior. "Though it’s slightly annoying that Bulger asks us to feel bad for him, Baker’s pissy attempts to pummel any emotional connection make that feeling all but inevitable," Prigge writes.
Also highlighting the film's ability to work on a wide range of emotional responses, Flavorwire's Jason Bailey adds that the titular Baker is "a perversely mesmerizing figure, his tales of reckless rock and roll dramatized with killer music, crackerjack archival footage, and animations that portray Baker as a wide-eyed, red-headed madman. It’s sad and thrilling at the same time, an absorbing portrait of the last of a dying breed."
Indiewire Picks: It's not often that a film finds a steady wave of support by a vocal minority among Indiewire's Criticwire members. Yet with the latest installment in the cyborg militia series "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning," Indiewire's Eric Kohn ("one of the best action films of the year"), The Playlist's Gabe Toro ("strong action in a franchise returning to form"), and our own Matt Singer ("a hypnotically strange vision") have all been staunch supporters of Dolph Lundgren, Scott Adkins and co. Writing at Film Comment, R. Emmet Sweeney continues to spread the love, concluding his review by asserting that "[director John] Hyams has created a truly unique object, a horror-action-flicker film about uniquely expressive bodies haunted by the minds and memories they are forced to house."
There's another film opening this weekend that writers from our family of blogs have found intriguing, even if their enthusiasm might not be completely shared by everyone. After it attracted attention near its festival premiere mainly for the conditions of its production, "King Kelly" has now reached theaters, causing critics to shift their focus to how the film captures a generation. Initial buzz surrounding the film (much of which can be found here) centered on the fact that the film was shot primarily on iPhones, but the non-cinematography discussion has heaped praise on lead actress Louisa Krause and the film's overall approach to the pitfalls of the Internet era. Still, it's interesting to note that the Indiewire troika of Kohn, Singer and Toro — all "B+"s or higher — are the three highest grades for the film. (Meanwhile, The New York Times' Stephen Holden apparently loves it.) No "fans" — that is, non-critics, who can vote using the green button on a film page (go ahead, try it!) — have had a chance to grade the film yet, but we'll keep an eye out to see if they stick more to the approval or exapseration avenue.
Netflix Documentary Check-In: We're one month (and one major holiday) removed from Halloween, but there's a documentary still kicking both on demand and in theaters making the argument that some spooky stories can entertain year-round. Michael Paul Stephenson's "The American Scream," available both on Netflix Instant and on a lingering handful of screens around the country, chronicles attempts by three Massachusetts families to create the grandest and scariest haunted house on their block. Screen Crush's Jordan Hoffman explains that the film, to its credit, never condemns these families for their indulgences. Instead, Hoffman writes that the film's detailing of these families' preparation for the big night comes off as "surprisingly emotional, as it celebrates the triumphs and agonizes over the burden of dreams. It slowly evolves from a quick expose on neighborhood kooks into something truly touching."
For better or worse, the film doesn't just stay with the three Fairhaven families, but follows other members of the "haunting" community at large. Like Hoffman, though, Roger Ebert singles out one particular family: "The father-and-son team of Matthew and Richard Brodeur are a mystery; there's no hint of how they earn their income, if any." "The American Scream" is an inherently different project than "Best Worst Movie," Stephenson's debut and a more outwardly personal endeavor. Yet, like his previous effort, critics have saluted "American Scream" just enough to land it as an entry in our end-of-the-year Criticwire Cheat Sheet (which we just so happened to have updated earlier this week, by the way).
This Week's Underachiever (and Why it Might Be Faring Thusly):
"The Collection": "The movie doesn’t make five seconds of sense (the coda tries to offer an apology) and most of what they’ve done they’ve borrowed — from movies, music videos, and art installations. This boogeyman is made up of so many other maniacs and boogeymen (Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy Krueger, Buffalo Bill, Jigsaw) that, even by the loose standards of horror-movie sloppiness, he’s a mess." – Wesley Morris
Fan-Critic Discrepancy: In the earlygoing of the new version of Criticwire, fans and critics have generally been on the same page. If you go to our homepage, you can click the "Critics Picks" or "Fan Picks" filters to see what has resonated in either camp. Mostly, there's overlap in these categories, to the point where there aren't any wild outlandish, ridiculous differences between the general consensus of critics and that of fans. But there are varying degrees of enthusiasm among each, evident for a film like Martin McDonagh's "Seven Psychopaths" with a "B" from critics and an "A-" from fans. For a film that plays with narrative in a theatrical way, it's difficult to pinpoint what would make fans the more outspoken advocates here. Maybe it's the unhinged character at the center (no specifics in case you haven't had the chance to catch up with it yet)? Perhaps it's the theatricality that lends it more to a cult-movie-style reaction? Either way, it's not the easiest overall film to process, so it's encouraging to see audience members get behind it.
Head to the next page for more information about each of this week's releases.