The All-Americans


(2017) Documentary (AbramoramaAlfred Robledo, Mario Ramirez, Sammy Hernandez, Javier Cid, Chuy Hernandez, Stevie Williams, Fran “Simba” Saucedo, Lorenzo Hernandez, Joseph “Spike” Silva, James Wicks, LaVada Williams, Huero Navarro, Lorraine Sauno, Ernie Sauno, Kathy Lopez, Lynn Cain, Yellow. Directed by Billy McMillin

 

There is something peculiarly American about high school football rivalries. The Big Game, whether it’s played in a big city or a small town, is something that helps define entire communities. It can make or break an entire season; one can count themselves a success if they lose every other game that season except the one with their bitter rivals; conversely, a championship season can lose its luster if the only loss is to those rivals.

In East L.A., that game is El Classico, the game pitting the James Garfield High School Bulldogs and the Theodore Roosevelt High School Rough Riders. Both schools, like East L.A. itself, are predominantly Latino. Many of the students from both schools speak English as a second language; many of the students have undocumented family members or are themselves undocumented. Throughout the film, we hear a litany of complaints from right wing radio commentators about how the flood of immigrants from South of the Border are changing the make-up of America and not for the better. The racism in the remarks is so thinly veiled as to not be veiled at all.

That’s what these kids face in addition to all the things high school kids face; romance, fitting in, feelings of inadequacy, studying hard for a future that is uncertain. As any person who has played high school football will tell you, the demands of practice and commitment to the team also put pressure on kids already overburdened from pressures just trying to make it through the school day.

The movie documents that, focusing on Coach Javier Cid from Garfield who is trying not just to make a competitive football team but to make sure that every kid graduates – he is more proud of their 100% graduation rate than their won-loss record, which a lot of parents will appreciate. One of his players, wide receiver Mario Ramirez, is doing more than graduating; he has a 3.97 GPA and letters of recruitment from Harvard, Yale and his school of choice, Princeton. He wants to be the first from his family to graduate college but lives in a small apartment with 14 other family members.

Over at Roosevelt, coach Lorenzo Hernandez’ day job is as a patrol cop for the LAPD. He sees the results of kids making bad choices every shift, and is determined that his charges develop the self-discipline and self-respect to make it in life. Linebacker Joseph “Spike” Silva has two absent parents; his dad is in jail and his mom is a junkie lost to the streets. He himself has fathered a baby daughter and works before school in a bakery. On the field, he is a coiled spring of rage. Quarterback Stevie Williams is an outsider; he is an African-American student who takes city buses to school every day from South Central, hoping that football will take him further away from that part of Los Angeles.

The stories of the kids and their coaches are compelling enough that the big game itself is almost anti-climactic which is a good thing because the game isn’t terribly exciting or ever much in doubt. McMillin is forced to concentrate on how the football team affects the players and in doing so we are treated to many of the clichés that coaches love to espouse at the high school level.

What I would have liked to have seen more of is how the game effects the community; it is clearly a big deal in East Los, as natives call it – the game has been played for well over 80 years and many of the players are second and third generation at their schools. In this documentary, the kids and their coaches exist in a vacuum and an opportunity is lost to really share much of the culture and pride of East L.A. with a wider audience.

Still, there is a lot to be gained here. We’ve seen high school football stories before and this one definitely has a bit of an accent, which is a good thing – we are made to realize that these kids are no different than the ones playing the game all over the country, other than the pervasive specter of immigration woes, and racism directed their way, more than perhaps at any other time in the history of East L.A. In an era where “Build that wall” is regularly chanted by those who follow our President blinded, it is well we are reminded what that wall is intended to keep out.

REASONS TO SEE: A realistic look at the Latino experience circa 2018.
REASONS TO AVOID: Looks a little bit more at the individuals involved rather than at the overall effect on the community.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and teen partying.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Initially, the game was known as the “Chili Bowl” but the name was changed to the East Los Angeles Classic because the two schools felt it was more dignified and reflective of the neighborhood overall.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/13/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pahokee
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Return to Mount Kennedy

Mountaintop


Neil Young gives you the fish eye.

(2019) Music Documentary (Abramorama) Neil Young, Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot, John Hanlon. Directed by Bernard Shaky

 

Neil Young has been a musician’s musician since he first came on the scene in Buffalo Springfield back in the Sixties. Throughout the following decades, the Canadian rocker was the conscience of a generation, creating songs like “Southern Man,” “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “Rocking in the Free World.” At an age when most men are chasing kids off their lawn and complaining about their prostate, he continues to rock – hard.

Earlier this year he took to the Studio in the Clouds in Telluride, Colorado to record his new album, titled Colorado which will be in stores on October 25. This documentary was recorded mainly on Go Pro cameras placed strategically around the studio, interspersed with time lapse photography of the gorgeous Rocky Mountain scenery outside.

We hear the songs take shape and to be honest, they are as good as anything Young has ever done. At 73 years old, you’d think he would be ready to hang up his Les Paul but he clearly still has a lot to say, such as on the single “Rainbow of Colors” in which he decries the Trumpian suspicion of immigrants both legal and otherwise.

There are also some instances where both Young and his producer/engineer John Hanlon rant about the monitors and the studio wiring – at one point Young threatened to pull the plug on the project. Still, the occasional tantrum aside, the bond between Young and his bandmates is almost terrifying in how on the same page they are. Even Lofgren, a relative newcomer to the band and the only member under 70 years old, harmonize beautifully and seem to understand instinctively what Young is trying to accomplish.

The film, directed by Young himself under a nom de cinema is unlikely to win new converts to his cause. Those that love the music of the master – who is no longer an aging hippie but an aged one – are going to eat this up like candy. Nor is Young planning on slowing down on the film projects; he reportedly has 15 of them lined up, including the editing of footage documenting the recording of the iconic 1971 album Harvest as well as concert films from throughout his career.

The movie is playing in theaters just today (October 22, 2019) in locations around the country – check your local listings for the one nearest y,ou. Here in Orlando, trek on down to the Enzian for a 9:30pm screening. If you’re a Neil Young fan, you won’t want to miss it on the big screen.

REASONS TO SEE: If you’re into Neil Young, you’ll be into this.
REASONS TO AVOID: If you’re not into Neil Young, you won’t be into this.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film explores the recording of the first studio album in seven years by Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/22/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Western Stars
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Kill Team

#Female Pleasure


Getting down about FGM in Africa.

(2018) Documentary (Abramorama) Deborah Feldman, Leyla Hussein, Rokudenashiko, Doris Wagner, Vithika Yadav, Mike Scott. Directed by Barbara Miller

 

There are those who think “feminist” is a dirty word, that they are strident man-haters out to castrate the opposite sex and turn the world into a matriarchy. That the feminist movement might have legitimate and pressing concerns doesn’t necessarily occur to those sorts.

Swiss documentarian Barbara Miller looks at five women who are fighting different aspects of oppression that women face on a global scale. Closest to home is Deborah Feldman, an author and former member of New York’s Hassidic denomination of the Jewish faith. She found herself married to a man she barely knew and with absolutely no control over the direction she wanted her life to go. She decided to leave the faith and to take her son with her; she remains one of the few Hassidic women to win custody of her son when leaving the faith. She is reviled by those she formerly was part of the community with.

Former nun Doris Wagner, who while serving in a convent in the Vatican was raped by a priest there. When she confessed what happened to her to the Mother Superior, she found herself treated like a criminal, that it was her fault what happened to her. Essentially without recourse and feeling alone, she took the drastic step of renouncing her vows and attempting to communicate her story directly to Pope Francis, who she felt (as many Catholics do) might be ready to do something about the dangerous and brutal situation in the convent. To date, however, there have been no changes although Wagner is much happier these days as a wife and mother.

Japanese manga artist Rokudenashiko got into trouble when she made a model on a 3D printer of her vagina in order to make art out of them (including a fiberglass kayak). In a culture that is replete with porn, it was amazing to her that the depiction of a part of her body would elicit such a negative response but she was in fact arrested and charged with obscenity. She was eventually convicted of publishing the schematics so that others could use 3D printers to replicate her vagina, which falls under the corruption of minors. She continues to appeal the conviction, although she is now dating Mike Scott, formerly of the Welsh band The Alarm, who was drawn to her plot by a news story about her.

Indian activist Vithika Yadav is a founder of the Love Matters website. If rape is a problem here in the United States, it’s an absolute epidemic in India where women are regularly groped and assaulted. Most women in India do not feel safe going out after dark without a trusted escort. Yadav is trying to create an atmosphere where men learn to respect women and see them as partners rather than as chattel.

Somali refugee Leyla Hussein lives in London now, but in the country of her birth was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation, a barbaric practice in which the clitoris is cut off as well as in some cases other parts of the vagina so that women can no longer experience sexual pleasure. One of the most compelling scenes in the film has her showing on an oversize clay model to a group of Somali young men exactly what is done in the procedure. The horror on their faces speaks volumes.

While at times the tone gets a little shrill, this definitely isn’t an anti-man film; rather, it is anti-abuse of women. All five of these women just want women to retain control over their bodies and their lives. As has been said elsewhere, if the Somalis practiced the hacking off of male penises, a stop would have been put to it forthwith but the practice is spreading as refugees from countries that practice it are moving into Europe and North America.

The women are passionate and personable and tell their stories eloquently. If Hussein breaks down in frustration as she does at one point, it’s understandable. When you think about it, there has been a cultural fear of the vagina on a global scale for millennia. Women have been forced into arranged marriages (as have men, to be fair) but more to the point, into arranged roles in which they are subservient.

Even in Japan, women are encouraged to look and act more child-like with big bows in their hair and cutesy schoolgirl clothes, something Rokudenashiko buys into which I found a bit ironic. This is certainly a film for the #MeToo era although this isn’t just about rape – it’s about the oppression of half the worlds population by the other half. This is certainly an eye-opening movie and if you have an uncle who thinks feminists are lesbians who want to see men mowed down by machine gun fire, you might want to plunk them down and show them this film. Not that it would make much of an impression of the Rush Limbaugh-lovers, but you never know.

REASONS TO SEE: Looks at the issues of feminism with a global perspective. The storytelling is compact but often harrowing nonetheless.
REASONS TO AVOID: Can get strident at times.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, sexual content, artistic depiction of female genitals and discussions of rape.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming took place over the course of five years with locations in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews: Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hunting Ground
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Mountaintop

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements


Better to soar among the eagles than walk with the turkeys.

(2019) Documentary (Abramorama/HBOJonas, Paul, Sally, Colleen, Matthew, Irene. Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky

 

As someone who loves movies and music, my senses of sight and hearing are particularly precious to me. As such, I tend to feel a tremendous pity for those who lack one or both of those senses. How can someone without those senses appreciate the grandeur of Laurence of Arabia attacking Aqaba or the soaring Maurice Jarrė score that accompanies it? It seems to me to be an irreplaceable loss – but there are other compensations that perhaps I failed to take into account.

Brodsky is the child of two deaf parents, Paul and Sally, who received cochlear implants while in their sixties. She and her siblings are all hearing, so they were in some ways insiders to the challenges their parents faced without perhaps understanding them fully, as those possessed of a sense can never truly understand what it is to be without it. How does one, after all, describe a world of silence to someone whose world is filled with noise?

She is also the mother of a deaf son, Jonas, who was born hearing but gradually lost his ability to hear when he was four. He was then given cochlear implants and when the documentary was filmed, was 11 years old who most of us would never realize he had any sort of hearing issue.

Music is also important to Jonas and he is taking piano lessons. He tells his piano teacher Colleen that he wants to learn Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata which his teacher tells him he doesn’t hav the skills for et. Jonas is insistent and at last Colleen relents. After all, Beethoven wrote the piece during a time when his hearing was failing him. Was that a motivating factor in Jonas’ desire to play it, or did he merely like the piece? We never find out for sure; at least, not from Jonas.

This is a very personal film for Brodsky and in many ways that makes it more difficult to review. Not because I believe she’s going to ever read this review, although I like to think she might someday, but it feels too much like I’m reviewing her family life. She is clearly devoted to er children and her parents, and although we see little interaction between the director and her husband Matthew, we see him comforting and encouraging his son and realize that he is a good man. The relationship between Jonas and his grandparents is a special one and the elder couple obviously adore their grandson even when they chide him over being sloppy when using American Sign Language.

As the film progresses, we see that Paul – one of the inventors of TTY technology which allows deaf people to use the telephone – is beginning to show signs of oncoming dementia. He is forgetful and sometimes loses focus on what he’s doing. When Brodsky lovingly but firmly tells him that she can’t allow him to drive her children any longer, it is a truly emotional moment; Paul not understanding why she’s come to this decision, Sally tearfully asking him to stop arguing. Many viewers who have undergone similar discussions with their own parents or grandparents will feel compassion.

In the background looms the ghost of Beethoven, his music providing a soundtrack. Quotes from his letters pop up throughout the film and animations depict him (but curiously always as an outline, never as a fully realized figure) linking him with a solitary bird flying within sight but definitely separate from the flock.

Jonas is, at the end of the day, a fairly typical 11-year-old boy. There are things about him that are admirable, there are other things in which he is less so. He sometimes tries to con Colleen into thinking that he’s doing better with the piece than he actually is but she’s having none of it; she holds him accountable but never in a cruel or vicious way. She simply calls him on his bull when he is espousing some. I don’t know that I would have liked my life immortalized when I was eleven; I would like to hope that I would handle it as well as Jonas does here.

Brodsky has two other children who show up incidentally and always with Jonas; the clear focus is on her eldest son. I wonder what her kids thought about that or how they handled not being the center of mommy’s attention. Still, it takes a certain kind of courage to turn your cameras on your kids when you know that the footage isn’t going to be shown just to family and a few long-suffering friends but to the entire world, or at least that part of it that subscribes to HBO (this film will be available on the premium content channel later this fall).

Like any life, there are ups and downs in the film. We get to see Jonas playing the Sonata at a recital and we get to see the difficulties that the grandparents face as old age robs Paul of memory and cognitive thought. He is just in the beginning stages here but the ordeal to come is one that many children are sadly familiar with and it’s hard not to feel compassion for Paul, Sally and their family. The road ahead won’t be easy for them.

I found that Brodsky dividing her film into movements to be kind of gimmicky and arbitrary; the first movement seems to be about beginnings, the second about the journey and the final about destinations but that’s over-simplifying. I thought the movie would have been better without it. Using Beethoven as a linking device doesn’t always work either.

But let it not be said that there are not moments here of exquisite grace; Jonas takes off the external device of his cochlear implant to practice, rendering him deaf but also removing the distractions of sound. Jonas speaks of how when the implant is off, he can just play for the sheer joy of it. When the implant is in and working, he can hear his every mistake and every one gnaws at him. He has not yet gotten to the point where he understands that imperfections are okay, that mistakes aren’t the end of the world. We all would like to be flawless but none of us achieves it truly (other than my dog Penelope but that’s another story entirely). Our mistakes make us human and our humanity makes us beautiful. It’s the aspiration to be flawless that is wonderful, not the achievement of it.

REASONS TO SEE: This is probably as close as the hearing are ever going to get to understanding what it’s like to be deaf.
REASONS TO AVOID: The division of the film into movements seems arbitrary and gimmicky.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all ages.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Brodsky’s previous documentary on her deaf parents, Hear and Now, was nominated for an Oscar.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/23/19: Rotten Tomatoes:82% positive reviews: Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sound and Fury
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

ZZ Top: That Lil Ol’ Band from Texas


You can’t help but have a good time at a ZZ Top concert.

(2019) Music Documentary (Abramorama) Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, Billy Bob Thornton, Joshua Homme, Terry Manning, Steve Miller, Winston Marshall, Robin Hood Brians, Tim Newman, Ralph Fisher, Howard Bloom, Dan Auerbach. Directed by Sam Dunn

 

Texas, it is said, is a state of mind and there’s a lot of truth in that. Texans are kind of a breed unto themselves. They revere their frontier past and pride themselves on being outlaws and rulebreakers. A Texan will give you the shirt off his back or shoot you in the face with a shotgun. Texans are Cowboys, oilmen, roughnecks, barflies, ladies’ men and asskickers. In Texas, they still remember the Alamo – Texans first, Americans after.

It actually blew my mind a little bit that the band was founded in 1969 as an answer to the Texas psychedelic kingpins 13th Floor Elevators in Houston with Gibbons, drummer Dan Mitchell and bassist/organist (!) Lanier Grieg. When Mitchell and Grieg bailed, drummer Frank Beard auditioned and won the slot. Beard talked Gibbons into auditioning Dusty Hill, who’d played with Beard in a band called the Warlocks in Dallas in the mid-60s.

The three clicked and began playing a fusion of Texas boogie blues and rock and roll. It began to click on songs like “La Grange” and “Tush” in the 70s. After the mammoth World Texas Tour (complete with a Texas-shaped stage and livestock onstage), the band planned for a 90-day break which with Beard’s drug addiction turned into two years. During that time Hill and Gibbons never shaved and returned to work with chest-length beards.

In 1983, the band would hit their commercial zenith with Eliminator, which spawned hit singled “Gimme All Your Loving,” “Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man.” Nascent video music channel MTV played the heck out of their videos, directed by Tim Newman (cousin of Randy). Newman really established the “cartoon versions,” as Gibbons wryly put it, of the band which became iconic in 80s pop culture. In an era of New Wave, synthesizers (which the band did employ) and skinny ties, these Texas working class boys with Civil War-era beards became video superstars. I don’t think you could make up a more unlikely scenario.

Dunn opts to show the “Gimme All Your Loving” video in its entirety for some reason – much of the other musical clips are the band playing in the venerable Gurene Music Hall (the oldest in Texas) before an empty house, perhaps reminding us of the occasion in Alvin, Texas, when the band played to an audience of exactly one paying customer. (“He still comes to shows to this day,” says Hill ruefully, “He says ‘Remember me?” and I say “Of course I do,””). For some reason, the documentary abruptly stops with coverage of Eliminator with the 35 years afterwards being reduced to a graphic “The band still records and tours to this day,” which essentially ignores great albums like Afterburner. Still, I imagine that if Dunn wanted to cover all 50 years of the band’s existence, he’d need a mini-series.

Much of the credit for the band’s success goes to their manager Bill Ham, who sadly passed away in 2016. The band members consider him as integral to ZZ Top as the musicians himself but he rarely gave interviews and wanted the band initially to maintain a mystique, so they rarely gave interviews or performed on television in the early years which is why there is a dearth of band footage.

Part of the documentary’s charm are the members of ZZ Top themselves; they don’t take themselves too seriously and are the kind of guys you’d spend a Saturday afternoon fishing with, or a Sunday afternoon watching football and drinking beer. There is absolutely no rock star attitude to be found. They’re just working men whose job happens to be playing rock and roll.

The band has kept the same line-up for 50 years, a feat that is absolutely amazing. No other rock and roll band can claim that. Beard best explained it at the end when he said, humbly, “I found the guys I was meant to play with. After that, I didn’t want to quit and I didn’t want to get fired.” Judging from their interviews, they are guys you’d want to hang out with and who would want to stop working with guys you like hanging out with?

ZZ Top has always been a band that didn’t really get their due in a lot of ways, despite being elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Gibbons is one of the best American guitar players and their music has always evolved over the years although their roots as a boogie blues rock band have always been present. While this isn’t the documentary I would have liked to have seen of the band – maybe it should have been a mini-series – it at least makes a terrific introduction to those who aren’t already fans of the band.

The film will soon be playing nationwide for about the next two months. There are no dates currently scheduled in Orlando but if you ask Tim Anderson or Matthew Curtis nicely, maybe they’ll add it to the Music Monday series at some point.

REASONS TO SEE: The boys in the band are the kind you’d want to have a beer with.
REASONS TO AVOID: Basically stops after covering the Eliminator album in 1984.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film had its world premiere at the world-famous Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/14/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Honky Tonk Heaven: The Legend of the Broken Spoke
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America

American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel


The Reverend Robin Meyers is preaching blue in the reddest of red states.

(2019) Documentary (Abramorama) Robin Meyers, Carlton Pearson, Marlin Lavanhar, Lori Walke, Bernard Brandon Scott, Nehemiah D. Frank, Robert Jones, Colin Walke, Nicole Ogundare. Directed by Jeanine Isabel Butler

It is no secret that religion has become a powerful political force in 21st century America. While the Founding Fathers touted a separation of church and state (and Jesus himself believed that one should render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s and render unto God what was God’s), in more recent days the Evangelical right has become, if you’ll pardon the expression, hell-bent on rewriting history and turning their faith into a de facto state religion.

American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel is a documentary that attempts the difficult task of examining the role of religion in modern politics and how God became a Republican. They center largely on liberal-leaning Robin Meyers, the pastor of the Mayflower Congregational United Church of Chris Church in Oklahoma City. Author of the book Why the Christian Right is Wrong, he is a jovial sort who often jokes “In Oklahoma, you can be a Democrat or you can be Christian. You can’t be both – it’s just peculiar.” He and his associate minister Lori Walke (unusual enough that she is a female minister in a profession dominated by men) and the Reverend Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, pastor of the All Souls Unitarian Church, are bastions of liberalism in a largely conservative pastoral community.

Oklahoma is perhaps the reddest of the red states, with every single county having voted for Donald Trump in the last Presidential election and for Mitt Romney in the one previous. The state is overwhelmingly Southern Baptist and to a very large extent that is who seems to be the driving force for the political arm of the Christian right.

However, as theologian and historian Dr. Bernard Brandon Scott of the Phillips Seminary in Tulsa and one of the world’s foremost scholars on the Apostle Paul and his works. He reminds us that the modern Bible is essentially a “4th century creation masquerading as a 1st century eyewitness report,” referring to the Council of Nicea called by Emperor Constantine of the Holy Roman Empire to consolidate the Bible into a single version with agreed-upon chapters rather than dozens of different versions each with their own set of writings. Several gospels, such as the Book of Mary, were permanently removed, remaking the Church into a patriarchal enterprise whereas earlier women were a big part of the movement as crypt paintings and early Christian artwork shows.

Dr. Robert Jones also moves into more modern history, depicting the rise of Jerry Falwell and of politically-motivated pastors and the groundswell of the religious right that became a large part of the Tea Party and now the base that drives the Republican party. The movie also unflinchingly looks at the role of racism in the religious right, concentrating on the Greenwood Massacre – locally and incorrectly referred to as the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 – in which a thriving African-American community called Greenwood, also known as the “Black Wall Street,” was burned to the ground by an angry white mob.

This becomes truly evident in the Mayflower’s decision on whether to become a sanctuary church for those fleeing deportation. In Oklahoma, most pastors would say that there’s no decision whatsoever – sanctuary churches run counter to what modern evangelicals believe that America’s borders must be protected. One wonders what Jesus might have thought except that, as Dr. Jones points out, Jesus and his parents were unwanted refugees as well.

In all honesty the discussion is pretty one-sided here, although those with differing viewpoints were invited to be interviewed and all declined according to the filmmakers. Still, it is an eye-opening film that uses the gospels themselves to point out the inconsistencies in modern evangelical thought. The movie uses music effectively (particularly an effecting sequence in which an instrumental version of Leonard Cohen’s “Alleluia” is played) but the movie is mostly talking heads, although the conversations are incredibly important as they go to the very soul of American Christianity.

It is hard to believe that any Fox News-watching conservative Christian will be moved very much by this, although the story of former associate minister to Oral Roberts, Carlton Pearson, shows that change is possible as he takes a church whose founders were ringleaders of the aforementioned Greenwood Massacre and turned it into a church where African-Americans were not only welcomed but have become dominant. In that sense while liberals will find this documentary fascinating, I fear that it is literally preaching to the choir.

REASONS TO SEE: The background information gives a good sense of how the Christian right acquired political clout. Very conversational but important conversations.
REASONS TO AVOID: Can get a little bit preachy.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images of the results of the Greenwood massacre.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won more than 40 awards on the Festival circuit.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/12/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Evangelicals
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Man With the Magic Box

Parallel Love: The Story of a Band Called Luxury


A true band of holy joy.

(2018) Music Documentary (AbramoramaLee Bozeman, Chris Foley, Jamey Bozeman, Glenn Black, Matt Hinton, Amy Bozeman, Wayne Everett, Matt Goldman, David Vanderpoel, Jeff Wickes, Brandon Ebel, J. Edward Keyes, Carrie Foley, Sheila Aldridge, Taylor Muse, Doug Andrews, Nick Purdy, Alex Johns, Andy Prickett, Josh Jackson, Reid Davis, Kate Bozeman, Jessica Inman. Directed by Matt Hinton

The world is full of great bands. Some manage to find that connection, the one where millions of people find themselves able to relate to the songs and voilà, a star is born. Most of the time, these bands toil in obscurity until they collapse out of frustration or lack of inertia.

Luxury was an improbable band from the get-go. They came together in the Northeast Georgia town of Toccoa – more specifically at Toccoa Falls College, a Christian institution of higher learning. The initial band members – vocalist Lee Bozeman, drummer Glenn Black, guitarist Jamey Bozeman and bass player Chris Foley – wanted to play loud rock, music along the lines of DC punk icons Fugazi and A Minor Threat. Lee Bozeman was more of a Smiths fan and became almost instantly a compelling frontman, with sweet high-pitched vocals, intelligent lyrics, and almost effeminate movements onstage. The band was often described as “sensitive” and fans of other bands in the Athens scene (where this band basically cut their teeth) ruefully remember that the really gorgeous women tended to attend Luxury shows.

The band began to attract a whole lot of notice for their live shows which were described as wild and passionate. They were signed to indie distributor Tooth & Nail records, whose clients have included MxPx, Starflyer 59, The Juliana Theory and Underoath. The distributor mostly moved their albums through Christian bookstores and although the music wasn’t overtly Christian (although all four members identified as Christian), the marketing went on as if it was. The lyrics often had content that could be construed as referring to gay sex which certainly didn’t endear them to the Christian community. Nonetheless, the band had a huge buzz about it and many thought they would be the next big thing.

That literally came to a crashing halt when on the way home from a gig at the Cornerstone Christian Music Festival their van crashed, leaving three of the four members hospitalized. Members of the band Piltdown Man were also travelling with them and while there were thankfully no fatalities, given that three people involved in the crash ended up with broken necks it was a minor miracle none of them wound up paralyzed.

The band’s next albums showed a deeper, more reflective bent than their earlier music; there was also a tendency to more musical complexity. Dissatisfaction with the way Tooth & Nail was handling their promotions led to the band not renewing their contract with them; they made another album on the Bulletproof label before breaking up in 2005. They have since reunited for an album slated to come out in June of 2019.

Interestingly, three members of the band (Foley and the Bozeman brothers) went on to become ordained priests in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In a lot of ways, the band has come full circle. The excerpts of songs from their forthcoming album sounds like the band hasn’t lost any of their edge or their stark beauty.

Hinton tackles the film from an insider’s perspective; he became the band’s second guitarist in 1999. Much of the footage is home movies here both of shows and of studio time. There are some overt music videos from the era as well. Hinton animates the lyrics which aren’t super helpful – Lee has a clear voice that is easily understood – but still is gratefully received.

The two main questions about the band – why didn’t they succeed and why did 3/5 of the band become priests – are teased at but not really answered. If anything, Hinton is a bit coy about it, essentially saying that the latter situation was essentially inevitable but being in a band that likes to, as Jamey Bozeman put it “take the piss” from the Christian right, well, there just seems to be a story to be told there.

The music is amazing and it certainly led me to run right out and buy some – okay, buy some online which entailed no running whatsoever – an I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of you reading this are motivated to do the same. This is a band that in some ways did everything they could to keep from being big but in some ways that isn’t a bad thing. It gave them the opportunity to pursue their calling and at the same time pursue their muse. Not many get to do both.

REASONS TO SEE: The story of another great band you’ve never heard of. Their story is a most unusual one.
REASONS TO AVOID: Most viewers won’t know what to make of this band.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The band was originally known as The Shroud and didn’t change their name until just before their debut album on Tooth & Nail came out.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/17/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Trial by Fire