Motown Movies. Films reviewed: Brick Mansions, Super Duper Alice Cooper, Only Lovers Left Alive PLUS Hot Docs
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
This week, I’m looking at three interesting movies with a connection to Motor City (Detroit). There’s a Hot Docs documentary about a stadium rocker; an art-house drama about a faded rocker; and an action flic about two guys caught between a rock and a hard place.
Dir: Camille Delamarre (Based on Luc Besson’s Banlieu 13)
Brick Mansions is the name of a derelict housing project in a future Detroit. The city has built a huge guarded wall around it. Why? High crime rates. The wall also blocks all the city services like schools, fire department or police. But thousands of people still live there. It’s ruled by a drug lord named Tremaine (RZA of Wu Tang fame) along with his odious henchmen, including a giant white bodyguard, a chubby lieutenant, and a sexy hit-woman in garters and fishnet stockings who carries a cat o’ nine tails.
The corrupt police are all paid off, so what happens in Brick Mansions stays in Brick Mansions. And just one man, Milo (David Belle), fights back. He steals Tremaine’s drugs and flushes them down the drain, to keep the block drug-free. So Tremaine kidnaps his girlfriend in retaliation. In his crusade to free her and bring Tremaine to justice, Milo kills a crooked cop.
Then a neutron bomb is detected inside Brick Mansions, all hell breaks loose. The Mayor calls Damien, their best undercover cop (the late, Fast and Furious’ Paul Walker’s last film) and teams him up with cop-killer Milo. Can the two of them work together, stop Tremaine, rescue his girlfriend, and save the city from nuclear annihilation? And can Detroit’s corruption-ridden government be trusted?
Forget the story for a minute – the plot is not important. This movie is really about parkour. Parkour is a sport involving jumping on and off buildings, platforms, swinging and sliding on wires, spinning around poles. Sort of an acrobatic martial art, where life is one big obstacle course. The star, David Belle, is one of that sport’s French founders, and he gets to show off his military cirque de soleil-ish prowess in scene after scene.
Brick Mansions is not meant as a great movie. It’s a “B movie”, a stoooopid movie, riddled with inconsistencies, with an ignorant take on issues like race. But I enjoyed it anyway, for the great action and fast-moving, choreographed fighting.
Super-Duper Alice Cooper: a Doc Opera
Dir: Reg Harkema
Alice Cooper was originally, the name of a group, not a man. Vince Furnier is born in Detroit, the son of a preacher man, whose family moves to Phoenix, Arizona for health reasons. By high school, he’s heavily into Salvador Dali and Beatlemania. He starts an insect-named band with his high school buddies (first the Earwigs, then the Spiders) and they start getting radio play while still teenagers. The thing is, they aren’t very good or special. Better at the spectacle than the music. They soon discover that, in LA, image is everything. They meet a girl group in Frank Zappa’s basement who help them with their makeup, cultivating a glam look. Soon enough, they’re wearing sequinned Ice-Capades jumpsuits, and appearing on stage with lots of props and animals. And using a Ouija board they channel a Victorian witch named Alice Cooper (or so they claim). And that becomes the name of the group.
Next, at a rock festival in Toronto, comes the infamous chicken incident (He says didn’t actually bite off the head; it was the audience’s fault). The rest is fame and super-stardom. Furnier gradually morphs into the ever-more-outrageous and self-destructive character, Alice. Their shows become more elaborate, even as Alice Cooper’s fame grows. Eventually the group collapses, Alice goes solo, and he crashes and burns in a bubbling cauldron of eye make-up, skeletons, groupies, drugs and alcohol. This movie is a lot of fun. It manages without a single talking head. Instead, the voices of rock stars, agents and producers narrate an oral history, illustrated by countless animated still photos, period film clips and concert tapes. Very creative, ingenious, fast-moving. And it’s all tied together with silent film footage of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde, the two Alice Coopers. Vince, the straight-laced preacher’s son, and Alice, the outrageous performer, both in the same body. All of this punctuated with hits like Eighteen, Schools Out, and No More Mr Guy. It’s a intensely edited documentary. I’ve never been an Alice Cooper fan, but found it super-duper to watch.
Dir: Jim Jarmusch
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a reclusive rock musician who lives in a crumbling, bombed-out mansion in downtown Detroit. He lives a languorous existence, playing the lute, listening to vinyl, and mourning the loss of culture and refinement. His only visitor is Ian (Anton Yelchin) his dealer, who brings him the good stuff and keeps his fans at bay.
His long time, on-again, off-again lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives far away, in Algiers, where she hangs out with presumed-dead cultural icons like Christopher Marlowe. She’s equally listless, with the air of a pre-Raphaelite opium eater. But neither Adam nor Eve is addicted to drugs. It’s human blood they need – they’re vampires. But they don’t kill the “Zombies” anymore (that’s their word for muggles), they just drink plastic pouches of blood smuggled out of hospitals.
Life continues, but things are disrupted when Eve’s sexy sister suddenly shows up in Detroit. Ava (Mia Wasikowska) is noisy and selfish, and doesn’t stick to his moral guidelines. When she sees blood, she takes it, even if it’s still in a friend’s veins. Will Adam and Eve ever be reunited? Will their love last forever? And will this movie ever end?
I have mixed feelings about this film. It has incredible night photography of faded Algiers and post-apocalyptic Detroit. Just amazing. And I could listen to the soundtrack all day. But the story is weak and the movie too slow and long. Either you buy into the conceit — that vampires are a secret nation of underground Goth hipsters, addicted to blood, not heroin – or reject it. I rejected it. It felt like a never-ending Lady of the Camellias The whole faded rock-star/junkie as hero-vampire? Just die already. This movie would work better as a coffee table book with an accompanying music playlist.
Only Lovers Left Alive and Brick Mansions open today: check your local listings. And Super Duper Alice Cooper – along with many other fantastic documentaries are playing now at Hot Docs. Rush tickets at daytime screenings are free for students and seniors. Go to hotdocs.ca for more info.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com