Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have some new additions to your Netflix queue. Or someone with whom you can angrily disagree.
This weekend I saw What We Do is Secret, a biopic of Darby Crash, the late front man of The Germs. I approached this one with a little trepidation – how could the guy from “A Walk to Remember” do justice to someone who cut himself on stage? I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, the movie is full of cliches, but if you accept that and move on, the actors give surprising depth.
Roger Grossman, making his directorial debut, presents the story as something between a dramatization and a faux-documentary. You watch events transpire, and also see interviews by actors who play key people in the story. Shane West (who plays Darby) is the movie’s strongest asset. He plays the singer as a brilliant narcissist. The movie begins with West talking to the camera, and he comes off as articulate yet slightly deranged. He talks about a “5 year plan” for his band, and plays coy when asked what happens after. As the movie continues, you’re never quite sure if Darby knows what he is doing.
Even if you haven’t heard of The Germs, you know what happens. They play a horrible show, they get good, they get laid, they get high, bandmates worry, singer overdoses. Band over. As with all movies, the details are what matter. Darby’s guitarist and bassist (Pat Smear and Lorna Doom, respectively) are in awe of Darby, but only up to a certain point. They let themselves get manipulated, and watch helplessly as their singer becomes a junkie. Bijou Phillips, who I always thought was overrated, gives a surprisingly good performances as Lorna, who is plucky and true. The bandmates are relatively well adjusted, and happy to be in the Germs – a good foil for Darby’s antics. Based on the strength of the acting, the final scenes have surprising power.
The movie is worth your time if you dig that kind of music There are worse ways to spend your money. Hurry fast, though. What We Do is Secret is only playing until Thursday.
Surely this punk rock docudrama is not enough to satiate your desire for power chords and drug abuse, so here are some other dead rock star movies worth checking out:
Last Days. Ok, so this one isn’t exactly about Kurt Cobain, but who is Gus Van Sant kidding? Van Sant follows Blake (Michael Pitt, doing a nice impression) as he wanders around his home, ignores desperate pleas to enter rehab, and eventually kills himself. Like his other movies about death, the director sacrifices entertainment value so he can give an accurate portrait of a troubled man’s end. The end result works, but the minimalist style prevents the movie from capturing the imagination. Only one scene (the one in which Blake halfheartedly plays a song) sticks out. On the other hand, such an approach helps demystify the romantic way Cobain is sometimes regarded. You probably shouldn’t watch this movie if you’re having a bad day. At least there are cool cameos from Kim Gordon and Ricky Jay.
Control. Anton Corbijn use luscious black and white photography to tell the story of Ian Curtis, the late Joy Division singer. Unlike Darby Crash whose performances hurdled gleefully into nihilistic glory, Curtis drew in fans with his unusual delivery, bizarre dancing, and haunting sound. It’s all the more tragic, therefore, to watch the singer sink into despair as epilepsy takes hold. The movie is gorgeous, and features strong performances from Sam Riley as Curtis and Samantha Morton as his wife. Corbijn, who spent time photographing the group, adds authenticity to scenes where the band performs. Curtis’ last moments are handled in a way that’s both sad and tasteful (I would be depressed, too, if I watched a relentless Herzog masterpiece). I’m not as likely to revisit Control as I am its more cheery counterpart, but Corbijn’s moody movie is far more memorable.
Sid and Nancy. Alex Cox’s follow-up to Repo Man was a biopic of Sid Vicious, the phenomenally untalented Sex Pistols bassist who (probably) killed his girlfriend, and later himself. Gary Oldman, then a obscure British theater actor, brings astonishing credibility to the role (before playing Vicious, Oldman mostly appeared in Shakespeare productions(!)). Sid begins a relationship with Nancy Spugen, an American junkie who (at least this movie argues) proves to be the bassist’s undoing. Cox does a remarkably subtle job of showing how easy it is to transition from a rock’n’roll junkie to just a plain old junkie. Definitely worth a rental, Sid and Nancy is a perfectly adequate substitute for What We Do Is Secret. For extra credit, you might also want to check out the Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury. I, for one, am always amused by Johnny Rotten’s attitude.
Side note: Only recently did I realize that Chloe Webb, the actress who plays Nancy, was also the creepy woman who claimed to be abducted by aliens in the beginning of Ghostbusters II. Weird, huh?
That’s it for this week’s edition of “Another Movie Guy?”! Tune in later this week when I look for love on Craigslist.