And so the week at SXSW has continued. Since the last post, I have had only two more pieces published on Hammer to Nail – an interview with the director and producer of The Dwarvenaut and a review of The Bandit – but you can expect many more pieces soon. Here are my capsule reviews of three other films for which I will not be publishing reviews on that site.
Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle, 2015)
Actor Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), in his directorial debut, has crafted a brilliant cinematic portrait of jazz musician Miles Davis (1926-1991). At times funny, at others tragic, the film is an improvisatory riff on the great innovator that would make the master proud. Kudos to Cheadle for refusing to make a standard biopic; instead, he has opted for an impressionistic approach that flashes back and forth between different eras in the man’s life. Cheadle, himself, plays Davis, and is riveting in the role. When we first meet our hero, he is deep into booze and cocaine at the end of a self-imposed exile that began in the mid-1970s. Ewan McGregor (Beginners) – a completely fictional free-lance journalist from Rolling Stone – is interviewing him, and just as we settle into a montage of images on a vibrating television screen, we smash cut back to a car chase and gunfire. And so the film goes, jumping around in a style that initially confuses but eventually brings all the disparate elements together at the end to show us, warts and all, what made Davis both great and awful. Human beings are complex, and a monster can still be a genius. A film to be watched by all who love both movies and music.
In Pursuit of Silence (Patrick Shen, 2015)
In today’s world, it is harder than ever to escape noise. Some people react to this situation with a vow of silence, like Greg Hindy, one of the many interesting characters we meet in this awe-inspiring new documentary from Patrick Shen (La Source). Others study the phenomenon, such as George Prochnik, author of the book In Pursuit of Silence (from which this film borrows its title). Shen takes us on a global journey – beautifully photographed – in which he explores what it means to be a human being, genetically predisposed to a pre-industrial universe, in a landscape of increasingly loud machines. With a musical score that emphasizes silence as much as it accompanies it, the film even dwells, for a bit, on John Cage‘s seminal 1952 composition 4’33”, in which a pianist walks up to a piano, sets it up, and then does nothing for four and a half minutes. The movie is a majestic achievement in which art and philosophy are blended in a perfect meditative mix. It’s an important film for our time.
What a joy it was to be at the world premiere of the new Pee-wee Herman film! The audience went wild as soon as Paul Reubens – aka, Pee-wee Herman – came out on stage. The film went live on Netflix a few hours after the screening, so everyone can now watch it (and you should), but I am so happy I was there for that first night.
Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (John Lee, 2016)
To be honest, I was too old to truly appreciate the phenomenon that was Pee-wee’s Playhouse when it hit it big in the 1980s. But the first feature film, in 1985, starring the titular character – Pee-wee’s Big Adventure – and directed by Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands), in his feature debut, did make it on to my radar. Still, I was never a huge fan. I was nevertheless dismayed by the persecution that Reubens suffered after his bust in a porn theater in 1991, as he seemed like an otherwise decent enough human being. Well, let us not shed too many tears for the man, as a close study of his biography reveals the many projects – Pee-wee-related and otherwise – that have kept him busy since that unfortunate incident. And now he’s back in full force with a new cinematic adventure for Pee-wee. And it’s a winner. With jokes both dumb and sophisticated, made with zip and pizzazz, the movie should delight Pee-wee aficionados of all ages. Check it out. You’ll be sure to have a good time.