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by Bill Gibron

31 Mar 2008


As a director, he continues to grow. His style has stayed basically the same, yet he still finds new ways to incorporate inventive ideas and social satire into the madcap mix. As a writer, his work has become polished and professional. Gone (well…almost) are the rude rants, the sexually explicit diatribes meant to shock as much as satisfy. In their place is a considered concentration on character, a desire to explore more mature aspects of humor while never quite leaving the confines of filth. Yet perhaps the most amazing thing about Low Budget Productions guru Chris Seaver and his 16 years of independent moviemaking is his consistency. Few if any mainstream auteurs have the track record that he’s developed, from his earliest experiments to his latest - and some may argue, greatest - works of genius.

Never one to rest on his lengthy laurels, 2008 looks like a banner year for this tireless talent. Already, Tempe has released Teenape Goes to Camp, and within the next few months we should be privy to new offerings like The Film Crew, Wet Heat, and the soon to be classic Ski Wolf. And what’s even more astonishing is that Seaver continues to create. A quick trip over to his website indicates the starting dates for two more films, as well as ideas for future projects. Not bad for a 30 year old who struggled in anonymity for years before DVD delivered his insane cinema to a wanting world. Even a change in personal status (he’s married, with a newborn baby) refuses to dampen his filmic fervor.

In this first part of a two day overview, we will look at Seaver’s old school pseudo-swansong, a crazy kiss-off revisit to the LPB universe melding the mindless teen sex romp with a small dose of Richard Connell.  Then it’s time to buy a ticket and take the Multiplex ride as a staff of highly skilled theater employees banter back and forth with the forces of evil. Together with the flicks featured in Wednesday’s piece, we’ll realize that something strange is happening to Chris Seaver. He’s leaving his past behind, and is preparing to take on so-called legitimate cinema. From what we see here, he’s got more than enough tenacity - and talent - to spare.

Teenape Goes to Camp

When former associate Heather calls, asking for a favor, our simian lothario is suspicious to say the least. When he finds out the request is for his services as a camp counselor, the mack daddy monkey goes ballistic. Little does he know but this entire summer stay-over set-up is just a ruse. Heather and her associates have the ‘most dangerous game’ prepared for our primate, and not even an obsession with sex can stop them.

It’s weird watching this surreal mix of Meatballs and Surviving the Game, especially in light of where Seaver’s career has been headed lately. To see him shuffle back to outrageous scatology, to rely on body parts and their accompanying functions as a means of making his business funny reeks of an unnecessary regression. Argue all you want about the LPB universe and its cast of kooky characters, but when this director wants to diddle in dirtiness, there is none better. So at least Teenape Goes to Camp offers its fair share of corporeal complements. Between our title character and the ever popular (and horny) Choach, there’s enough blue balling to go around. In fact, Seaver seems to have substantially stepped up his game in the proto-porn and massive mammary department. Some of his newest cast members are carrying cleavage that would make the editors of Juggs jump for joy.

It will be the sudden shift into stalker/slaughter mode that throws many off their game, especially when Father Mushroom from the MST3K classic Jack Frost shows up to offer his sage-like fungal advice. Granted, the moments of revenge are sweet as the gamiest cheek meat, and we want to see these standoffs as part of the overall LPB dynamic. But this is clearly a movie made for fans who just can’t get enough of the entire goofball gimmick. Fortunately, the film offers enough glad-handed good-timing to warrant attention. As a matter of fact, had he not made the next three movies under discussion, this would be one of his crowning achievements. Yet what happens to Teenape Goes to Camp is what tends to occur with all midcareer capers. There’s an undeniable sense of greatness here. There is also a tendency to view things via a “been there, done that” set of revisionist glasses. If you love Seaver and LBP, you’ll dig this fun flick. But be prepared - the next cinematic leap is a dozy.

The Film Crew

The employees at the local chain theater are a little wary of management’s new hire. His name is Caspian, and he seems unusually preoccupied with death, dismemberment, and retribution. As they go about their business, being rude to the customers and inappropriate with each other, something sinister starts to happen. One by one, the crew starts disappearing…and the new guy seems to be behind the vanishings.

Let’s get the lovefest out of the way right up front - The Film Crew is fantastic. It is by far one of the best, most inventive, and most consistently clever film Seaver has ever helmed. Not only does it prove that he can exist outside the strictures of the Low Budget Pictures universe, but it indicates a level of pop culture intuition that’s simply dead on. Attaching the at one time tired slasher dynamic to what is basically a stellar sitcom waiting to be discovered, we are treated to riffs on Jeremy Statham, American Idol, and geek cinema obsession. The scripting literally shimmers at times, reflecting one man’s undeniable ability to channel his entire catalog of fandom into a witty exchange of hilarious horndog hollabacks and genre homages. No one knows the horror comedy better, and when Seaver is on - as he is here - the results are electric. Indeed, one gets depressed at how the film ends, since it seems to indicate a sequel is next to impossible.

And another thing - Seaver has really solidified the work with his actors. The cast is incredible, delivering dead on parodies of slackers, dreamers, angst-ridden rejects, and ‘bumble-clot’ Rastafarians. The cartoonish quality they bring to each line reading really amplifies Seaver’s sensibility, and they end up endearing themselves to us with a juvenile gesture or a natty non-sequitor.  Not everything here is anarchy - the plot percolates along on whiffs of Prom Night and the essence of the venerable Voorhees. Even better, the splatter is kept under control, not allowed to overwhelm what is an excellent mainstream effort. Like his lost masterpiece The Karaoke Kid, Seaver continues to prove he can work well outside the confines of Bonejack, Teenape, and the entire Heather and Puggly domain. All he needs is someone to give him the chance. The Film Crew may just be his ticket to wider mainstream acceptance.

Tomorrow - we check in with another Teenape adventure, and witness the rebirth of Chris Seaver as a legitimate independent icon with his amazing ‘80s homage, Ski Wolf.

 

by Bill Gibron

30 Mar 2008


My, oh my, do the studios really hate piracy. Actually, that’s far too subtle a sentiment. They loathe the illegal activity, despising it with a passion born out of copyright concerns and fathomable financial realities. While they still refuse to acknowledge the technologically progressive forest for the old school trees, they do have a valid fear and a duty to protect their interests. But for the professional film critic, the individual supposedly catered to for their opinion and their influence, a literal line in the cinematic sand has been drawn. On the one side is the journalist who gets the privilege - albeit fleeting and sometimes flawed - of seeing a movie in advance. And sitting directly across from them are the screening reps, dead convinced that among the reviewing rabble, a bootlegger lives.

Before you scoff at such a suggestion, listen to this - every awards season, studios send out complimentary copies of their titles (some before they even hit theaters), in an attempt to prime the publicity pumps. The hope is that by writing a positive piece and via word of mouth, a wrongly overlooked effort will earn a gold statue or two. Now, in the days before computers, digital files, and massive hard drives, executives didn’t have to worry so much about piracy. Sure, some lesser scribe would make a few duplicates of a videotape for friends, but for the most part, the ingenuity required was inversely proportional to the number of knockoffs. And besides - VHS looked crappy. But thanks to DVD, and science’s ability to manufacture pristine, perfect reproductions, a veiled vigilante justice has taken over.

Now, all screeners come with various copy protections like watermarking, registration numbers, extreme warnings, and image-destroying security scrawls. From the moment you open a UPS box or FedEx envelope, the latest prestige picture sitting inside, you’re bombarded with do’s, don’ts, better not’s, and don’t even think about it’s. Even worse, the scolding makes it sound like you’re already a criminal - no need to actually make a facsimile; just thinking about it is enough to piss Paramount off. And don’t even consider loaning one of these sacred discs out. Imagine the judiciary repercussions if one of your friends’ children (or chum) decides to download an image or two onto their blog. The celluloid DEA will be busting down your door in a heartbeat.

This means that most critics enter the screener arena with a mixture of trepidation and determination. And most are nothing but professional, watching the film and then destroying and/or returning the DVD, as instructed. But producers still palpitate whenever its time to put their product into a human’s home theater set up. They just know that, for every 1000 honest members of the Fourth Estate (or its online equivalent), there’s one bad egg that’s going to post their preview version of Daddy Day Camp on BitTorrent. Now, they have legitimate reason to be concerned. Piracy from foreign regions is rampant, and a few years back, an actual Academy member was charged with uploaded banned content to the web. But just like those doggerel days in elementary school, Fox and friends are prepared to punish the entire class for the actions of one - or a couple - felonious types.

It’s a feeling that carries over to the public screening arena as well. Most word of mouth presentations have their fair share of security - men dressed in suits (or in some cases, black ninja garb…seriously), night vision goggles poised to capture cellphone use and/or camcorder activity. They can be personable or arrogant, taking their job far too seriously or simply taking up space. There have been times when a single Nokia noise gets their undivided attention. At other times - the Cloverfield preview, for one - a dork sitting right next to you can text their buddy over how “AWESUM” the movie is and no one notices. Yet their presence is felt, especially when the studio rep goes out of their way to make everyone aware that the movie police are in the house.

For the most part, critics are immune to their public persecution. We get to know the people in charge, relating to them as like minded co-workers. After all, we are reminded each and every time that our very existence among the rest of the moviegoing public mandates a certain level of individual decorum. As such, we typically don’t get ‘wanded’, aren’t subject to bag searches or body pat downs, and rarely have to wait in line to enter. Most of the time, it’s a wave of recognition, a whispered sentiment to someone new (“they’re with the press”) and a good time is had by all - depending on the film.

Yet there are those odd moments when you’re not sure what planet or plane of existence you’ve just arrived on. During a preview of the Diane Lane loser Untraceable, the rep actually took out a piece of paper, indicated that she was ordered by Lionsgate to read it, and then proceeded to scold us over issues of piracy, copy protection, and file sharing. It was like listening to Metallica lament the MP3 all over again. By the time she finished the two paragraph pitch, eyes rolling back in her head more than once, the audience was uncomfortable. Nothing like browbeating a prospective demographic before they witness your latest mediocre torture porn thriller, right?

Or how about the time that a Spanish speaking security guard, hands decked out in the finest black murderers’ gloves, walked up and down the entire press row, shooting daggers into the eyes of each and every member of the local critical community. As his dark, depressing gaze met theirs, you could literally hear him thinking “Seguir adelante punk. Hacer mi día.” On a side note, one of our loveable lot actually ran into him while in the bathroom. It apparently was a rather memorable exchange. We were assured that, once our commandant hit the urinal, the gloves did indeed come off.

Critics must contend with all types when it comes to doing their job - the curious, the fame seeker, the self-appointed rebutter, the ‘who do you think you are’ anarchist - but the security guard is the most interesting and potentially aggravating of them all. Rarely do they actually escort anyone out. Usually, they are sitting by the side of the theater, idly waiting for the movie to end. Many times this is their third of fourth screening for the week, and no matter how much you love the medium, seeing several films in a short period of time is draining. Most are friendly and personable, doing their job while respecting that you are also doing yours.

But there can be times when power turns the position, and then things get uncomfortable. During a recent screening of The Bank Job, a local radio personality was confronted for turning his cellphone “OFF”. He had just checked his messages before entering the theater, and was making sure the device was disabled before the feature began. Before he could hit the button, an angry hulk of a guard came meandering up, causing a scene where one was not needed. It didn’t matter that the reason this critic had his phone on before was that his father had just passed and he was trying to make funeral arrangements with the rest of the family. Rent-a-cop was going to do his job, no matter how inappropriate the reaction turned out to be.

And just like law enforcement, there are always times when these brutes are nowhere to be found when you actually need them. Audiences nowadays are a chatty, inappropriate bunch. Families bring babies to hard R rated fare, and couples clamor over missed dialogue and living room inside humor. Yet I have never seen a single security guard tell this loud, obnoxious lot to quiet down - or better yet leave. Instead, the audience must police itself, adding their own choruses of “SHHHH” to the fray. If we are to believe that studios hire these people to prevent piracy, that’s all fine and well. Yet anyone hoping they will moderate activity outside of such illegal videotaping are clearly living in a real rube’s wonderland.

The fact remains, sadly, that bootlegging is out of control. Look at any download or P2P site and you’re bond to find the latest releases ready for your camera-in-theater, mixing board soundtrack enjoyment. Studios aren’t actually stopping the activity, just putting on a brave game face for the stockholders come quarterly profit sharing statements. From awards screeners to advance previews, there will always be someone who thinks they can bend the rules to benefit their like minded geek peers. No matter the level of attention they give it, they can never win the war. Apparently, making battle weary those least likely to bootleg is the current strategy. Nothing like a failed approach to cramp one’s style.

by Bill Gibron

27 Mar 2008


For the weekend beginning 28 March, here are the films in focus:

Stop-Loss [rating: 5]

...more of an artillery based Abercrombie and Fitch road trip than a concise character study.


The War in Iraq remains a tricky cinematic situation. Over the last few months, there’s been a myriad of motion pictures that have decided that the best way to interpret the conflict is to make the soldiery a kind of indirect villain. Instead of celebrating the bravery and duty of these incredible young men and women, they’ve turned the political/policy elements of the conflict into a means to murderous, madmen ends. No matter the theater – foreign or domestic, religious or military – it’s nothing but the worst of our fears made very, very human. Kimberley Peirce’s Stop-Loss wants to buck this trend. It hopes to illustrate the Bush Administration’s ridiculous reenlistment strategy, a revolving door that keeps haggard and harried defense forces in harms way long after their effectiveness has waned. But instead of getting to the heart of the matter, it mines the middle of the road for a series of clichéd contrivances. read full review…

Run, Fat Boy, Run [rating: 5]

For all its faults however, this is a romantic comedy that works - if just barely.


Romantic comedies are, by their very nature, saddled with two completely different sets of motion picture hurdles. First, the story needs to be quixotic, dealing with the emotional bond between two typically star-crossed individuals. If the chemistry or the charisma is not there, part of the filmic formula fails. Then there is the humor. While not needing to be outrageous or riotous, there should be a fairly consistent level of laughs. Both of these prerequisite issues come to bear when discussing the Simon Pegg vehicle Run, Fat Boy, Run. Directed by ex-Friend David Schwimmer and co-written by The State‘s Michael Ian Black, what we have is an attempt to turns a sullen London slacker into a lovable determined dreamer. The movie only gets part of this right. read full review…

Chapter 27 [rating: 5]

In fact, the real problems with Chapter 27 is it vagueness. Everyone here - Leto, Lohan, Friedlander - leaves us in the lurch, and nothing Schaefer does can save our confusion.


For an entire generation, the death of John Lennon resonates more clearly than the assassination of President Kennedy or the suicide of Kurt Cobain. As the peace and politics voice of arguably the most important musical act of the 20th century - The Beatles - the iconic man with the sad/sweet gaze paid a substantial price for his undeniable megafame. While returning to his home in New York’s swanky Dakota building on a December evening, a mentally unbalanced young man named Mark David Chapman pumped five bullets into his back. As he lay bleeding, a ruptured aorta sealing his fate, his killer pulled out a copy of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, silently reading until the police came. read full review…

Married Life [rating: 4]

There will definitely be an audience for this kind of slow burn situational potboiler, but for many, there will be too much stagnancy and not enough sizzle


Marriage might just be the perfect cinematic allegory. You can infer so many differing metaphoric elements in the dissection of why men and women marry - and sometimes separate - that the permutations appear endless. There’s the emotional facet, the sexual supposition, the commitment and loyalty facets, and of course, the scandal ridden and adulterous angles. Together with an equal array of stylistic approaches, we wind up with a veritable cornucopia of combinations, a wealth of possibilities linked invariably to the age old notion of vows taken and knots tied. So why is it that Ira Sachs period piece drama, Married Life, is so downright flat? Could it be that this filmmaker has finally found the one cinematic category - the noir-tinged whodunit - that defies matrimony’s easy explanations and illustrations? read full review…


Other Releases - In Brief

21 [rating: 4]

There is an inherently interesting story to be told about a group of Asian MIT students who used a complex card counting scheme to take Las Vegas blackjack tables for large amounts of cash. How that narrative translated into 21 – complete with several Caucasian leads – stands as just one of the film’s many mysteries. Based on the best-selling non-fiction book by Ben Mezrich, this real life thriller becomes a mediocre mainstream effort in the hands of Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic. It’s not just the confused plotting that undermines our interest. The cast, including Jim Burgess as our money desperate lead, Kevin Spacey as the group mastermind, and Kate Bosworth as the mandatory eye candy, seem hemmed in by unavoidable elements outside the narrative, from the Mensa mentality set up to the gaudy neon glitz of the Sin City sequences. There’s also a weird ethical malaise that celebrates materialism for the sake of common sense. While it’s understandable that a Harvard Medical School bound student would do anything to get the $300K he needs for tuition, such a nefarious enterprise seems contradictory to everyone’s collective IQ. Add in Laurence Fishburne as a no nonsense casino security expert, and you’ve got something that should be better. Instead, it tries to stand pat and fails to beat the house.

by Bill Gibron

27 Mar 2008


The War in Iraq remains a tricky cinematic situation. Over the last few months, there’s been a myriad of motion pictures that have decided that the best way to interpret the conflict is to make the soldiery a kind of indirect villain. Instead of celebrating the bravery and duty of these incredible young men and women, they’ve turned the political/policy elements of the conflict into a means to murderous, madmen ends. No matter the theater – foreign or domestic, religious or military – it’s nothing but the worst of our fears made very, very human. Kimberley Peirce’s Stop-Loss wants to buck this trend. It hopes to illustrate the Bush Administration’s ridiculous reenlistment strategy, a revolving door that keeps haggard and harried defense forces in harms way long after their effectiveness has waned. But instead of getting to the heart of the matter, it mines the middle of the road for a series of clichéd contrivances.

After leading his men directly into an ambush, Sgt. Brandon King returns home to Texas a decorated, if disconnected hero. He is celebrated by his hometown, along with buddies Steve Shriver and Tommy Burgess. With just a few days before he gets out of the service, Brandon hopes to restart his civilian life. But when he reports to turn in his gear, he learns he is being Stop-Lossed. In layman’s terms, it means he is being involuntarily reenlisted for another tour of duty. Angry over this perceived betrayal, Brandon goes AWOL. He decides to go to Washington and speak to a Senator who promised to help him out. Steve’s fiancé Michelle decides to be his driver. Naturally, the military doesn’t look kindly on deserters, and it’s not long before they send his friends after him. Desperate and on the run, Brandon can’t understand why the country he served would treat him so. It’s a horrible lesson that he and his fellow recruits will soon learn all too well.

For the first ten minutes or so, Stop-Loss crackles along on a bed of preconceived patriotism. We watch fresh faced young men battling ambiguous Arab enemies, rocket launchers sending Hummers – and humans – to a planned pyrotechnical reward. By the time we see the trademark tableau (dead Islamic family, including kids, lying in a pool of blood and bullets), we think this film might be ready to break from the formulaic mold. But alas, director Peirce (of Boys Don’t Cry fame) brings the drama back home, and it’s here where Stop-Loss stumbles. In fact, within a short time of landing stateside, the movie meanders into a series of vignettes that replay every tired post-service chestnut ever offered. Over the course of the 105 minute running time we get the doomed alcoholic, the commitment-phobic jarhead, the conscientious objector, the fading Vietnam Vet father and any other stereotype you can stomach.

This doesn’t make Stop-Loss dreadful, just predictable. The moment you hear a commanding officer warn the troops about banned leave conduct – no drunk driving, no wife beating, no sex with underage partners – we recognize the various plot point beats the narrative is going to traverse. Sure enough, Tommy takes his car for an inebriated spin, while Steve’s gal pal suddenly sports a shiner. When combined with the other archetypes abounding (rebel yelling soon to be recruit, compassionate care-giving mother), we get a veritable cornucopia of cornball cinematic extremes. That Peirce manages to keep everything from swerving into parody or direct outrage is commendable. Yet the script by the director and Mark Richard keeps veering into easy answers and simplistic sentiments. In the end, we feel like we’ve witnessed all these war stories - both at home and on the front lines – before.

As for the acting, there is some reason to rejoice. While he’s typically been known as Reese Witherspoon’s ex, Ryan Philippe actually redeems himself as a serious performer – albeit of a decidedly MTV era bent. He looks less like a waifish pretty boy and more like a Lone Star soldier here. Equally engaging, though far more limited in range, is Channing Tatum. Best known for being the badass stud muffin in tween treats like Step Off, he certainly looks the part of a tattooed marksman. But when required to bring the big guns, dramatically speaking, he slips just a little. And while she may have a jailbait Charlize Theron look to her trailer trashiness, Abbie Cornish is a vapid, vacuous female lead. Among the underused and downright forgotten are Ciaran Hinds as Brandon’s worn warrior dad, Timothy Olyphant as the crusty CO, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the consistently tanked up Tommy, and a blink and you’ll miss it turn by Rosanne‘s Laurie Metcalf as a grieving mother.

In fact, the movie is more of an artillery based Abercrombie and Fitch road trip than a concise character study. There is no desire to dig deeper into these men, to see why a series of tours in a remote Arab land turns some young boys into fractured, failed men. Sacrifice is stressed, but not the lingering horrors of being a hired killer. Stop-Loss is not a movie of insight. Instead, it skirts most important issues in favor of more post-adolescent angst. Peirce falls into the typical motion picture parameters. She relies on musical montages, pop culture cues, and the standard shaky-cam suggestion of chaos. And since we don’t have more meaning to the events, we end up losing interest. No amount of pizzazz or flash can permeate the failed policies of George Bush and company, and since the movie only gives the Commander in Chief cursory criticism (and an “F” bomb beratement), its possible points become moot.

This renders Stop-Loss anticlimactic and average. While better than ball buster bravado like Redacted and Rendition, it can’t compete with more serious efforts like In the Valley of Elah. In fact, the film is very much like our mission in Iraq – poorly defined, jingoistic, and destined to be unpopular. While marketing may drive the 20 something demo into theaters, audiences with more life experience will scoff at the black/white pronouncements. It is clear that this war is taking a toll previously unfathomable to those who initiated it. But what’s also evident is that Stop-Loss – as a movie and as a course of action is a failure as well. 

by Bill Gibron

27 Mar 2008


For an entire generation, the death of John Lennon resonates more clearly than the assassination of President Kennedy or the suicide of Kurt Cobain. As the peace and politics voice of arguably the most important musical act of the 20th century - The Beatles - the iconic man with the sad/sweet gaze paid a substantial price for his undeniable megafame. While returning to his home in New York’s swanky Dakota building on a December evening, a mentally unbalanced young man named Mark David Chapman pumped five bullets into his back. As he lay bleeding, a ruptured aorta sealing his fate, his killer pulled out a copy of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, silently reading until the police came.

Chapter 27, the long delayed indie film dramatization of these events, proposes to be a character study of Chapman, a look inside the scattered, soured mind that decided that John Lennon must die. It also features one of those notorious star stunt turns, a DeNiro/Raging Bull, Theron/Monster physical transformation by pretty boy emo band member Jared Leto. Packing on 60 pounds of purposeful bloat, and diving Method like into Chapman’s baffling brain (thanks, in part, to taped interviews that formed the basis of the film’s inspiration, the book Let Me Take You Down by Jack Jones), our lead wants to create a gripping portrait of insanity unleashed. Part of the time he’s semi successful. At other moments, it’s the same old schizo song and dance.

As the first feature from filmmaker J.P. Schaefer, there is a determined effort to make Chapman’s tale parallel the events as played out in Salinger’s book. The main plot point travails of adolescent antihero Holden Caufield - trip to New York, a night with a hooker, the ducks in Central Park - are intertwined with Chapman’s own obsessions to form one part of an intriguing paradigm. What drives a supposedly ‘normal’ person to destroy that which they admire requires an intricate, complex dissection, however. All Schaefer gives us are nonsensical pronouncements from a clearly sick mind. The use of Jones’ book offers its own limits, since it can’t give us the analysis necessary to figure out Chapman’s malfunction. It’s like listening to bad poetry from depressed tweens - not the ravings of the fatal lunatic fringe.

And then there is Leto’s performance. He doesn’t really play a character. Instead, he’s the physicality of Chapman fused with tired, tic-laden theatrics. It’s more like an animatronic version of the notorious madman than a flesh and blood portrait. It’s not just that Leto is restricted in what he can bring to the role. The script constantly shuffles him over into nutjob mode without ever allowing us to see the real Chapman inside (if one truly existed). Constantly being “on” renders much of Chapter 27 redundant. When we see our lead lumbering toward Lindsay Lohan (playing a ubiquitous fan named Jude), we just know their conversations are going nowhere. A last act confrontation with a photographer essayed by Judah Friedlander is equally anticlimactic.

No, Chapter 27 wants this entire experience to be one long Catcher tinged internal monologue, and Leto’s ersatz lisping narration (he is affecting an odd Southern drawl here) can grow grating at times. But because of the setting, the seedy back alley way in which Chapman went about his business, and the exterior element of a very public protest (the movie has been shelved since its 2007 Sundance debut for lack of a willing distributor), the film contains a morbid curiosity that can’t be helped. Call it a bow to our current tabloid mentality, but with his eerie resemblance to the famed shooter, Leto keeps our attention - at least until he starts rambling like a fool to any cab driver who will listen.

Schaefer is also his own worst enemy when it comes to directorial flourishes. First, he makes the big mistake of announcing Chapman and his intentions right up front. We get several foreboding flash forwards to the events that will lead to Lennon’s death. Had he hidden the fact that he was dealing with The Beatles’ infamous killer, and let the three day ordeal unravel organically, we’d have a much better dramatic arc. Similarly, by leaving the victim almost completely out of the picture (surely for legal and music catalog copyright reasons), we never feel Chapman’s fascination. The link to Catcher in the Rye is remote, and the voice over explanations ambiguous at best.

In fact, the real problems with Chapter 27 is it vagueness. Everyone here - Leto, Lohan, Friedlander - leaves us in the lurch, and nothing Schaefer does can save our confusion. While it may sound sick to say so, there is an innate allure to this story. We want to understand what happened, to get some insight into why this lowly schlub would take his failed ego fascinations out on a social symbol of a man. It remains the most captivating aspects of the assassin’s tale - and it’s the part that’s definitely missing here. To call Chapter 27 a failure would be a mistake. To call it worthy of the tragedy involved or the figure lost is also extremely shortsighted. Somewhere in the middle lies this less than impressive film.

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A Chat with José González at Newport Folk Festival

// Notes from the Road

"José González's sets during Newport Folk Festival weren't on his birthday (that is today) but each looked to be a special intimate performance.

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