Film reviews June 2003

The films are rated on a 4 star scale. Any comments should be addressed to Mike Weston at

Capturing the Friedmans (3 stars, 2003, seen 6/29/2003, 1:47, unrated):

This documentary chronicles the Friedman family: father Arnold, mother Elaine, sons David, Seth, and Jesse, and Arnold's brother Howard. Most of the footage was actually shot by David, which is amazing given the light it paints the family with. There is one particularly memorable clip, from David's video diary of November 18, 1988, which begins by him saying, completely distraught, that this video shouldn't be watched by anyone other than David himself. It's like an accident that you don't want to look at, but can't look away from.

The film opens, briefly, with images of a seemingly happy family. Then, early in the film, allegations of child pornography are made against Arnold. This leads the authorities to talk to some of the children who have been taking computer classes from Arnold and Jesse, and some of these children seem to remember things. As someone who lived in Southern California during the time of the McMartin trial, I know that sometimes the memories of children turn out to be true, sometimes they do not, and many times you simply can't be sure. That question is the core of the film, which seems to me to be quite balanced in its handling of the various opinions.

This is not an easy film to watch, both due to its subject matter and due to the camera work, which often exhibits SpastiCam™, and even occasional TurboSpastiCam™, so viewers with weak stomachs are strongly cautioned. But I found it well worth the effort. The jury at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival did also, giving this film the Grand Jury Prize in the documentary category.

Prey for Rock & Roll (3 stars, 2003, seen 6/22/2003, 1:44, unrated):

Jacki (Gina Gershon) is the almost 40-year-old rocker and lead singer of a “girl band.” She's been doing this since she saw Ike and Tina Turner live when she was 16. Based on a sex scene near the start of the film, she's lesbian or perhaps bi-sexual. The rest of the band consists of Sally (who's 23) and Faith (Lori Petty, who's closer to Jacki's age), who are lovers, and Tracy (Drea de Matteo), who's straight but has a creepy boyfriend.

The other significant character is Sally's 27-year-old brother (Marc Blucas), who calls himself Animal and has just been released from prison. I'm not sure just why or how, but despite knowing his recent history, he struck me immediately as an honorable man. This is good, because the rest of the men in this film are not painted in a very flattering light.

The band is struggling. When they do play, which isn't as often as they would like, they typically make about $13 each. Jacki makes money on the side as a tattoo artist, Faith as a guitar teacher (whose students provide the primary source of comic relief in the film), and Tracy lives off of her rich parents. But they all love music and being in a band, so the sacrifices seem worth while.

I don't want to spoil the film's surprises, but suffice it to say that parts are pretty heavy, in one stretch to the point of feeling somewhat manipulative. And what the film seems to be about changes a few times, keeping the story from being as coherent as one might like. That said, the performances are generally good, with Gershon and Blucas being the obvious stand-outs. Although the opening credits are visually pretty jumpy, the camera settles down for the rest of the film, which has good production values. And finally, the music is quite good, with several original songs that seem like they could be popular if they get a chance.

It isn't a slam dunk, but I would recommend this film. It is expected to be released, probably around October of 2003.

Camera Cinema Club: I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell, CA. The writer, Cheri Lovedog, was there to talk about the film and answer questions.

Lovedog said that the film, which is based on a musical/play that she wrote earlier, is very autobiographical. She was in one band for 12 years, and she is still a tattoo artist (in Santa Cruz, CA—I would include a link to the web site, but they seem to have let the domain lapse). In fact she did the tattoo design for Blucas for the film.

As for the film project, there were some glitches. Lovedog was thrown off the set on the second day, but was asked back two days later. One producer was “certifiable” and Gershon threatened to leave, which is how she ended up being one of the producers. On the positive side, Gershon had played guitar before, so she handled that part well (although if I understood correctly, the vocals were recorded on set but the music was recorded in a studio).

There was more, but the main message that Lovedog wanted to get out, both in the film and in person, is not to wait. Just do what you really want to do.

Owning Mahowny (3 stars, 2003, seen 6/15/2003, 1:44, rated R):

It's the early 1980s, and Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) works at a bank in Toronto. He also has a gambling problem. He bets at the track and through a bookie, and while Mahowny's debt is fairly large relative to his salary, he can't hurt himself too badly.

But after he gets a promotion to assistant manager at work, he can authorize large loans with few if any questions asked, and things start to get messy. The safety net is gone, and we see just how focused he is on gambling. There simply is nothing else, so the risks of stealing/borrowing to feed his habit aren't something he really thinks about. His girlfriend Belinda (Minnie Driver, in a small part) is totally ignored, as if she was not there. And soon most of Mahowny's gambling starts to be done in Atlantic City, in the casino run by Victor Foss (John Hurt).

Hoffman is quite good, although not quite a revelation. My expectations were probably a bit too high. Hurt has the more obvious, showier role, which he takes full advantage of.

I can't recall a film that portrayed addiction and its total lack of control quite so clearly. That this is a true story makes it that much more striking. The film is recommended.

External filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

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