Going the Machete Groove (Weekly Links)

Cairo Time’s Clarkson

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week:

Machete. “They messed with the wrong Mexican.”

Going the Distance. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

One notable thing about “Going the Distance,” a romantic comedy: its R rating.

The R is not about nudity, except for a brief shot of a naked posterior (the punch line to a somewhat labored joke). No, the rating is really for the f-word and the subject of sex, both of which come up frequently.

This might raise the question, couldn’t they make a nice romantic comedy without all that profanity? To which screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe and director Nanette Burstein might reply, because this is the way people actually talk.

Or at least this is the way Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long) actually talk. They’re the lovebirds in “Going the Distance,” and their fledgling romance is threatened after just a few weeks because Erin is wrapping up a newspaper internship in New York and returning to school at Stanford. The long-distance-relationship idea is the movie’s only attempt at plot; this is a fairly basic vehicle for the talents of Barrymore, a long-established pixie with definite star appeal, and Long, who has steadily made a name for himself in a string of funny roles (including his part in “He’s Just Not That Into You,” with Barrymore).

An offscreen romance between Barrymore and Long might explain their easy chemistry here. They generate a loosey-goosey interplay (frequently punctuated by Barrymore’s increasingly throaty guffaw) that distinguishes the film from other such efforts. It’s hard to get around the fact that the situation is contrived; this is one of those movies where the central dilemma could be solved with a simple act. Beyond the dilemma, there isn’t that much going on.

Garrett is given the requisite bad-advice buddies, played by Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day (from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). Both have their moments. Erin’s foil is her practical sister (Christina Applegate), who takes a dim view of her long-distance beau. Applegate does deadpan well, and scores a few laughs.

The most likable thing about the film is not the comedy, although Long brings his improv skills to a few scenes. The movie’s best quality is its sincerity, a hallmark of Drew Barrymore’s work. Both she and Long have some nicely straightforward declarations to make in this movie, giving a sweetly non-ironic tenor to the proceedings. Along with a lot of f-words.

The Tillman Story. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

There’s little new information in “The Tillman Story,” a step-by-step account of the official whitewash that followed the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in 2004. Reporters have ferreted out the real story, and Jon Krakauer wrote a book, “Where Men Win Glory,” that covered the case.

Still, a documentary allows us to see the people involved, hear their voices, and witness the places that a book can only describe. On that score, “The Tillman Story” brings its tale to life.

Pat Tillman made headlines when he quit his successful NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals and volunteered for military duty in the wake of September 11, 2001. Many others made sacrifices, but Tillman was a high-profile person, so the admirable act got a lot of publicity.

Publicity also followed Tillman’s death, but of a much more orchestrated kind. Within days of his death by gunfire on a hillside in Afghanistan, an elaborate memorial service was held, with John McCain delivering the eulogy. Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. The military might have buried him at Arlington National Cemetery, except for his own explicit wishes—perhaps he sensed somebody might have an interest in exploiting his celebrity.

When the facts came out that Tillman had been killed by “friendly fire” in a chaotic situation that might not have involved any enemy combatants, Tillman’s family was quick to sense the cover-up. As “The Tillman Story” argues, they were right. Tillman’s parents, and his young brother Rich, speak at length in the film about the ways their search for the truth was stymied by government and military officials.

Curious by his absence is Pat Tillman’s other brother, Kevin, who enlisted in the service with him. He’s also been highly critical of the official handling of the case, and is seen in footage at a Senate hearing on the subject—but director Amir Bar-Lev (“My Kid Could Paint That”) ought to explain his non-presence in the interviews here.

It’s a disturbing story (insultingly rated R for language—more on that below) that, frustratingly, still doesn’t have closure. The military had its fall guys, but questions remain about how high the planning went.

The film, narrated by Josh Brolin, creates a few indelible character studies. Pat Tillman himself was much more complicated than his jock image might suggest; he was intellectually curious, widely-read, and had developed a very thoughtful approach to his belief system, which was atheism.

His mother, Mary, is from the “Norma Rae” mold. One observer suggests that the military meant to forestall her constant questioning by burying her in an avalanche of paperwork surrounding her son’s death. It was a massive underestimation of her determination, as she parsed the thousands of pages of documents for the untruths contained there.

The feistiness of the Tillmans is seen in footage from the memorial service. After hearing McCain and Maria Shriver invoke God and heaven in their speeches, Rich Tillman took the podium, beer in hand, and told the crowd, “Pat isn’t with God. He’s (expletive) dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s (expletive) dead.”

The expletive used was a Tillman household favorite, as the movie explains. “The Tillman Story” captures a most unusual family, under tragic circumstances.

Wheedle’s Groove. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

To describe “Wheedle’s Groove” as a history documentary with a strong archival component is accurate, perhaps. But hardly appropriate.

That’s because the subject of the archival research is the Seattle soul music scene of the 1960s and 70s. There’s nothing dry or archival about the hip-shakin’ music or the tasty anecdotes from that bell-bottomed time.

The film, directed by Jennifer Maas, is structured around a fan’s re-discovery of the scene. We meet a DJ, Mr. Supreme, whose devoted record-collecting led him to pursue obscure 45s from bands with names like Black on White Affair and Cold, Bold, and Together.

What was this funkalicious sound? What were these collections of rump-bumping beats? The mystery needed to be solved.

The film lays out the history of a music scene: soul and funk musicians who played together in the clubs of Seattle’s Central Area, and almost got their shot at the big time. As no less a local icon than Quincy Jones himself relates, Seattle was a happening place for jazz and blues after World War II, and that energy morphed into R&B in the Sixties.

Those Sixties musicians, now with gray in their hair, recall a busy live-music scene of the era. The usual joys and frustrations of struggling bands are aired—personality issues, missed opportunities, and the thrill of hearing your song on local radio. There’s also an undertone of race, both in a positive sense (some of the bands had no-sweat racially-mixed line-ups) and negative (some black bands noticed that white groups doing the same music were getting the good gigs).

Among the many talking heads is Kenny G, nowadays a world-famous sax player but then a sideman with Cold, Bold, and Together. (Only in the Seventies did they have bands with names like that, folks.) He’s a got a great memory for the old days, and is clearly delighted to recall the scrappier part of his career.

And then there’s the music: if you love the funk, this movie will bring it in. The vintage fashions are something to see, too.

A wonderful movie, but given an edge of regret by the fact that—unlike so many documentaries that recall glory days, or the beginnings of greatness—the glory days never really came. The Seattle soul scene never broke through to national acclaim, and with the advent of disco the energy dispersed. The music lives on, thanks to dedicated fans—and you’ll be one too, after seeing the film.

Cairo Time. “Banish all thoughts of ‘Sex and the City 2.'”

Highwater. “The jittery approach goes against the oft-stated zen appeal of surfing.”

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1. “If he’s going to take a hostage in a courtroom, he might as well take the judge.”

And I give a film critic’s perspective on the Glenn Beck phenomenon to Steve Scher on KUOW’s “Weekday,” plus some thoughts about movies in a time of war: archived here. The movie bit kicks in at the 15-minute mark.