This is the 100th column for Queued Up! Welcome to an expanded edition for this month!
NETFLIX FIX: THE DIRT (2019)
Unlike other rock biopics, the long-awaited adaptation of Mötley Crüe’s infamous memoir immediately unleashes a maelstrom of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll in equal measure right out of the gate and doesn’t let up for nearly two hours. Directed by Jeff Tremaine (the Jackass franchise), The Dirt pulls no punches as it chronicles the L.A. quartet’s debaucherous ascent from Sunset Strip hotshots to troublemaking superstars. Distilling the 400+ pages of the book into less than two hours was undoubtedly a challenge for screenwriter Rich Wilkes, and at times many key events are compressed in the timeline for economy’s sake, just like in Bohemian Rhapsody. There is a moment where guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) humorously breaks the fourth wall to let us know that manager Doc McGhee’s brawling entrance did not actually happen that way, reminding us that even rock stars (and their biographers) can fall for their own hype when fueling music legend. While the casting is a mixed bag, Douglas Booth shines as bassist Nikki Sixx, Tony Cavalero revels in hamming it up as ant-snorting Ozzy Osbourne, David Costabile brings the right amount of gruffness as manager Doc McGhee, and Machine Gun Kelly does a pretty good job cavorting as drummer Tommy Lee. Kamryn Ragsdale’s brief appearance as singer Vince Neil’s cancer-stricken daughter Skylar is genuinely heartbreaking. (Hopefully A&R man Tom Zutaut does not mind that SNL’s Pete Davidson portrays him as an amiable dork.)
The film offers many entertaining moments sure to appeal to hardcore Crüe fans, and it shows some of the dark side to the group’s chaotic lifestyle. But the key problem with The Dirt is that, unlike in the book and even recent interviews, any sense of remorse that the band members have felt for their egregious past behavior—notably Neil’s drunken car crash that killed Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle and permanently injured two other people—and any lessons they learned get washed over by a celebration of mayhem-filled camaraderie slapped up against interpersonal squabbles and Sixx’s heroin addiction. It’s a closed circle. You feel for Neil (Daniel Webber) when his daughter dies, but not when he has only spent 19 days in jail. Even in the book he acknowledges that he got off lightly. Conversely in real life, his bandmates kept partying in his face while expecting him to stay sober, and that hypocrisy is not explored either. (Many of them would also be arrested and convicted on different charges years later.)
Even during this era of #metoo and damning criminal allegations against major music stars, no one expects an un-PC band like the Crüe to play it safe. But the film ultimately depicts them as having little self-awareness or sense of enlightenment after all they went through. Which makes you wonder: What’s the real story?
If there is one director who could take a B-list comic book character and give him a fun movie, it’s James Wan. Just watch his bonus featurette to see how passionately invested he was in Aquaman (2018). Casting hunky, snarky Jason Momoa in the lead certainly didn’t hurt, not to forget Amber Heard as the fierce, flame-haired Mera, his Atlantean warrior partner throughout this epic undersea romp which occasionally makes landfall. The central crux of the narrative is that Arthur Curry, son of an Atlantean queen and a human, has turned his back on his ancient heritage and lives a simple life, aiding humans in need on the sea, thus being dubbed Aquaman. But then Mera seeks him out to stop his homicidal half-brother Orm Marius (Patrick Wilson), the pure blood King of Atlantis who seeks to unite the seven underwater kingdoms to wage war on the surface world that pollutes the sea. First-born Arthur must stake his claim as King against his brother’s ambitions and even his own desires, but the fate of the world is at stake. The sibling quarrel unleashes intense combat and also a quest for an all-powerful trident that only the true King of Atlantis may yield. (Yes, King Arthur is an inspiration here.) Aquaman is not a super deep superhero film, although it send viewers diving into the depths of dazzling underwater worlds. The camera does not stop moving much throughout most of the film, which can be a little tiring, while the score effectively interweaves synthwave, pop/rock, and orchestral sounds. Let’s be honest: This is a ridiculous story, and disposable second-tier villain Black Manta is silly. But if you take it on its tongue-in-cheek terms, engage the main cast’s scenery chewing, and revel in the wild scenery, it’s worth a go around.
The Creed franchise has been a smart way to reboot/expand the iconic Rocky series by turning the famed pugilist (Sylvester Stallone) into a trainer to help guide the career of a new boxer, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his late rival Apollo. Creed II (2018) digs deeper into the continuum by pitting Creed against Russian fighter Viktor Drago (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Adonis’ father in the ring during Rocky IV. The two men have the wrong reasons to clash in the ring—Creed to avenge his father, Drago to reclaim his father’s fame and status in Russia. After the first match does not fare so well, the young boxers end up in a hard hitting rematch with plenty on the line as Creed and his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) have a child on the way. As coaches, Rocky and Ivan are vicariously reliving their own grudge match. Despite its predictable story arc and familiar themes, Creed II still clicks thanks to the lead performances, a couple of unexpected plot twists, and the film’s fantastic climactic fight. On the 4K version, the movie’s mixture of colorful action sequences and darker scenes play out well, the Ultra HD format making those contrasts all the more vivid. I’m not a fan of boxing movies, but the Rocky and Creed series are exciting to watch.
FIGHTING FYRE WITH FIRE
Anyone reading The Aquarian knows that the Fyre Festival was one of the biggest concert debacles in history, especially since it did not actually happen, and left thousands of attendees stranded on a Caribbean island with no immediate help or restitution. Numerous lawsuits against festival organizers Billy McFarland, Ja Rule, and others have since been filed. Two recent documentaries dig deep into the timeline of this disaster to expose the chicanery that undid the event. Hulu’s Fyre Fraud delves into the shifty business practices and social marketing manipulation that lured thousands of young attendees into a promised weekend of fun, sun, music, and supermodels, while Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, co-produced by Vice Media and Fyre social media team Jerry Media, goes behind the scenes every step of the journey with inside footage to show how things fell apart from inception to deception. (And presumably to try to exonerate the Jerry team, which is a fail.)
Hulu’s doc takes a more satirical tone, exposing the vapidity and corruptibility of influencer culture and mocking the easy gullibility of rich Millennials—and it boasts a dubious interview with McFarland, who spends half of his short time on camera evading meaningful answers or averting his gaze to the floor. He is clearly uncomfortable when being pressed on this massive failure and con job. Netflix’s take examines the mounting anxiety of a team with lofty ambitions but no clue how to achieve them, while also showing the economic damage unpaid bills did to the exploited Bahamian locals. Most of the key players interviewed in Netflix’s Fyre come off as quietly desperate to be part of the Next Big Thing, from the social media team and marketers in obvious denial to an event producer unbelievably willing to give a blowjob to solve an immediate crisis. McFarland knew how to dupe them and his investors, but the Millennial-inspired obsession with FOMO also kept them all clinging to this sinking ship.
By the end of both movies, you will feel little sympathy for most of the main personnel or anyone who bought tickets to the Fyre Festival, which perhaps serves as the perfect metaphor for our country, where the con is king, and a younger generation fleeces its own. Both docs make a good pairing (the Netflix one feels more fleshed out), but you’ll want to be invested in the topic to sit through over three hours of this stuff. At least in Fyre Fraud, when asked who is guilty, the candid ex-Jerry Media employee Oren Aks—who was excluded from the Netflix version and moved abroad for a while to escape the Fyre fallout—admits, “Everyone.”
This year’s Oscar winner for Best Motion Picture, Green Book (2018) incited controversy for two main reasons. For many, it offers more stereotypical examples of the White Savior and the Magical Negro, and it also depicts a friendship that is allegedly not as solid as the film’s creators claim it was. In this fictional account of true events, chauffeur/bodyguard Tony “Lip” Villalongo (Viggo Mortensen) drives renowned black pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (Oscar winner Mahershala Ali) through his late 1962 concert tour of the Midwest and the Deep South. They get looked down upon by many with a racist’s view from the time, and as the narrative drives down familiar territory—as the tour progresses, the two men with little in common bond and come to love each other—there are a few twists on the issues of class, race, and identity. The two excellent lead performances, both in lighthearted and serious moments, keep you anchored. But it’s also easy to see how people are tired of seeing such stories from a white perspective. This film was co-written and co-produced by Villalongo’s son, reportedly without input from Dr. Shirley’s family, who have said that the man was not as withdrawn or culturally isolated as portrayed here. Green Book is a well-made film that hits many good notes, but you have to go in knowing that there is much more to this story than is shown on screen. One wonders how different it would have been had it been told from Dr. Shirley’s point-of-view.
Hollywood fares badly with witches—black magic and evil spellcaster stereotypes abound—but sometimes they get some of it right. A bonafide cult classic, The Craft (1996) weaves the dark tale of four female teen outcasts coping with various traumas (attempted suicide, burn scars, racism, poverty) who band together to use their innate powers to get revenge on bullying peers and reverse bad circumstances. Naturally, escalating retribution and a clash of wills tests their friendship and moral compasses. While the black magic and fantastical elements are usually exaggerated in witch movies—spellcasting in witchcraft is actually about intention, and no, you can’t summon snakes and storms—many of the rituals shown in Andrew Fleming’s film have been deemed by some as fairly accurate in their presentation. Co-star Fairuza Balk was at least a practicing Wiccan at the time, and co-screenwriter Peter Filardi did some good research. A teen angst film served in a witchy brew with an over-the-top ending, The Craft may be more relevant today in the #metoo and anti-bullying era. It gives its heroines the chance to gain retribution and learn its cost, and it certainly shows that hell hath no fury like a teen outcast scorned. New featurettes include in-depth chats with Fleming, Filardi, producer Douglas Wick, and makeup effects supervisor Tony Gardner, while a vintage, half-hour documentary transports us back to the set with the cast and crew. It’s a nice package with reversal art giving fans the option of two different covers.
RETRO RENTAL: KRULL (1983)
Riding on the popularity of Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings book trilogy, this sci-fi/fantasy mash-up cribbed from both and was not terribly original story-wise, but it had some imaginative visuals. The Beast, his army of Slayers, and their teleporting Black Fortress have come to enslave the populace of the planet Krull, taking Queen Lissa (a dubbed Lysette Anthony) hostage. It is up to King Colwyn (Ken Marshall) to lead a ragtag band of rogues, mystics, and a cyclops to save her and topple their home-world’s seemingly unstoppable enemies. The effects may be dated and the characters undeveloped, but those shortcomings are compensated for with interesting costumes, a wacky weapon called the Glaive, stunning European landscapes, some Giger-esque creature and set design, and James Horner’s rousing score, which admittedly borrows from his Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan soundtrack. We also get a young Liam N. Neeson and Robbie Coltrane. There is a sense of fun and grandeur (and yes, cheesiness) in Peter Yates’ film that not only defined this style of optimistic ‘80s filmmaking but also provides a nice antidote to a lot of today’s darker fare. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of new fantasy films, but Krull is a fun throwback. You can watch it for free on Sony’s Crackle streaming service (with a number of random commercial insertions) or rent it for $4 on Vudu.