Local Legends


Say gang, let's put on a show!

Say gang, let’s put on a show!

(2013) Comedy (Motern Media) Matt Farley, Sharon Scalzo, Elizabeth M. Peterson, Tom Scalzo, Kevin McGee, Charles Roxburgh, Matt D., Millhouse G., Chris Peterson, Rachel Farley, Ryan Desmarais, Jon Cross, Jim Farley. Directed by Matt Farley

There are people who consume music and films, people like me. Someone else writes the songs, records the tracks, works the camera, constructs the script and does the acting. I just listen and/or watch. Other people aren’t content to do that; they need to create. However, their vision may not necessarily be grand – at least by certain standards. They don’t need stardom. They do what they do because they love doing it.

Local Legends takes a quasi-documentary approach. Shot in glorious black and white in and around Manchester, New Hampshire, local artist Matt Farley shows us more or less what his life is like. While a goodly amount is fictionalized there’s also a bit of truth going on here as well – it’s really up to you to determine which is which.

Matt is a stand-up comedian/musician/filmmaker/actor/songwriter/entertainment guru. He does all these things himself essentially without help or guidance from anyone, or at least not a lot. He works nights at a care facility for the elderly, mostly sleeping his way through work and only rousing himself to change the diapers when one of his charges has an accident.

During the day he writes and records songs, a lot of them – at  the time of filming he had over 13,000 songs on iTunes (that part is true) under various band names (go to the movie’s website and they’ll point you to a whole lot of them) which are mostly just Matt. Out of college he was in a group called Moes Haven which was a more or less serious band but Matt noticed that the only songs that were selling on iTunes were the novelty songs so after years of unjustified obscurity he and bandmate Tom Scalzo (who plays himself here) called it a day and moved on.

Matt and his friend Soup (Peterson) play one-on-one basketball during the day, each pretending they’re an NBA legend (such as Reggie Miller v. Bill Laimbeer – it gets confusing when they decide to pit Karl Malone against Moses Malone) but Matt generally hangs out most of the day recording songs. Some of them are fairly complex but some can be as simple as Matt repeating a person’s name over and over again against a catchy tune, or Matt waxing poetic on the joys of regular bowel movements. He has recorded more CDs than you can shake a stick at – not that there’s any good reason for you to shake anything in the general direction of a compact disc.

In order to get the word out about his music, he has to resort to creative means of marketing. From time to time, he’ll leave free discs in various places around Manchester. While doing this one afternoon he comes across his friend Millhouse G., a local promoter, putting up flyers for a Manchester comedy fest that he’s running and Millhouse invites Matt to take part, enthusiastic that he’s secured a 1,500 seat venue. Matt of course is all in.

Matt also meets Abby (Sharon Scalzo) after a comedy show. She invites him to her apartment with the lure of a complete Billy Joel collection. Matt, whose romantic cluelessness is part of his local legend, agrees but is disappointed to find out that her idea of a complete Billy Joel collection means that she has all of his Greatest Hits albums. Abby is clearly interested in Matt but is in a relationship with a guy named Norm (which is always a bad idea; guys named Norm are notoriously bad boyfriends) that is on again and off again by the hour. The good-natured Matt puts up with her particularly since she’s headed to Boston in a short time to attend art school – she wants to design costumes for display only. The thought of someone actually wearing them in a play or performance turns her stomach.

Abby’s constant attempts to spend time with Matt begin to irritate him but he doesn’t know how to get rid of her politely. Also the comedy show is beginning to get scaled down – it finally ends up being put on in Millhouse’s basement – well, to be more accurate, the basement of Millhouse’s parents. In the audience is Genevieve (Pearson) who also seems to be interested in Matt – but this time he’s actually interested in her.

This is what I call a “backyard movie” – one literally shot in the area around the filmmaker’s home and with a production budget approximately equivalent to a used car (a comparison that Matt uses during the film). Most of the actors are friends and family – during the comedy show scene in Millhouse’s basement, that’s Matt’s mom who comes downstairs in her bathrobe to get the laundry from the washing machine and Matt’s dad is in the audience. Surprisingly, the movie looks pretty good if you don’t mind fairly standard camera angles  – there isn’t anything fancy about the way Local Legends is shot but the movie nonetheless looks appealing. Manchester looks like a pretty cool place to live, although my wife and I once drove through New Hampshire and were advised throughout that there were moose crossings. We never saw one moose while we were there and concluded that moose are mythical creatures like unicorns and centaurs, which was proven  wrong when we ventured to Alaska. Screw you, New Hampshire!

Anyway, what I really like about the movie is that the more I watched the more it grew on me, like having a warm favorite blanket wrapped around you on a cold day. I got the sense that hanging out with Matt would be a good way to spend your time; he’s got a self-deprecating sense of humor and is unfailingly polite and good-natured. In fact, he informs you that the phone number he posts during the film is his actual phone number and if you give him a call, he’ll actually chat with you – and this is also true. He’ll even write a song about you if you ask him nicely (“I’m shameless,” he says disingenuously when asked about it). .

You’re unlikely to find this in a local theater and chances are it won’t ever play your local film festival either. However, you are in luck; you can see it for free on YouTube. If you’re interested, the link is right here. Just click on the word “here”  – not that one, the one that’s blue or possibly some other color and is in boldface. Otherwise click on the picture above and that will take you to the production company’s website where you’ll also find the link.

It took me about 15 minutes to really fall for this film but fall for it I did. While it has a Woody Allen-esque quality (without the neuroses) it also reminded me a little bit of Seinfeld in that the movie really isn’t about anything; it’s just a slice of this guy’s life. And let me tell you this, judging on what I see here, I really wouldn’t mind living it.

REASONS TO GO: Charming and grows on you the more you watch. Subtle and low-key.

REASONS TO STAY: Black and white isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Those ADD sorts might start squirming after about 20 minutes.

FAMILY VALUES:  This is actually pretty family-friendly, although the humor is geared more towards adults rather than kids. However, no violence, no foul language and no sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The open-mic stand-up performance that opens the movie was filmed at the weekly Laugh Free or Die show in Manchester. So far as we know, nobody died.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/11/13: no scores on either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Annie Hall

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Last Night

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Malice in Wonderland


The eyes have it.

The eyes have it.

(2009) Fantasy (Magnet) Maggie Grace, Danny Dyer, Matt King, Nathaniel Parker, Bronagh Gallagher, Anthony Higgins, Steve Haze, Christian Patterson, Dave Lynn, Gary Beadle, Amanda Boxer, Paul Kaye, Matthew Stirling, Alan McKenna, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Steve Furst, Pam Ferris, Garrick Hagon, Sandra Dickinson, Elizabeth Goram-Smith. Directed by Simon Fellows

The rabbit hole isn’t what it used to be. This re-imagining of the Lewis Carroll classic translocates Wonderland into a seedy urban/suburban Manchester, populated with basically every Brit gangster film actor of the last few years. Would Guy Ritchie approve?

Alice (Grace) is an American studying law in London. She’s returning home from a study session when she’s knocked down by a sinister black cab driven by Whitey (Dyer), a pill-procuring cabby who is obsessively concerned about tardiness, which seems to bother him more than you’d think it should. Sound familiar?

When she comes to, she’s forgotten who she is and what she’s doing there. Whitey seems to be her only link to finding out who she is. Whitey is mostly disinterested; as with everyone in a Lewis Carroll tale (or a British gangster movie for that matter) his priority is to take care of his own business. However eventually he begins to feel something for Alice who is pretty much a pawn in a much larger game that she is completely clueless is even being played.

The visuals here are pretty nifty and I like the mash-up of fantasy and gangster concept. Unfortunately it isn’t executed particularly well. It can be hard making sense of the various and sundry characters that come and go – I suppose those who are really up on the Wonderland books will be able to figure out the corresponding characters here, some obvious (Whitey = White Rabbit), some not so much (Harry Hunt = the King and maybe the Queen as well). However, I get the sense that the writers spent a great deal of energy fitting Alice into the new milieu without really asking the question of whether she belongs there in the first place – I think she does although perhaps not in the way they had in mind.

Grace, who had just finished her work in Lost when she filmed this, can be a marvelous actress but I got the sense that she was floundering here. Part of the problem is the writers turned Alice from a plucky heroine into a whiny drug-addled victim who bounces from the clutches of one nefarious villain to another. Part of the appeal of the Carroll story is the strength of character that Alice possesses that allow her to navigate the treacherous landscape whose rules defy not only what Alice is used to but of common sense and logic as well.

The story is occasionally hard to follow even knowing the tale of Alice from childhood. All the rivalries and alliances among the denizens of Wonderland are often tangled and obscure, while the motivations are even more so. I found myself with a great big headache trying to make sense of all this. Granted, Alice in Wonderland has always struck me as kind of a kid’s version of an acid trip without actually ingesting any drugs, but unfortunately this version turns out to be more of a bummer than anything else.

WHY RENT THIS: Creative concept. Some nice visuals.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A confusing mess.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of bad language, a little bit of violence and sexuality and some brief drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of Fellows’ credits previous to this were direct-to-video action films starring Jean-Claude van Damme.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Forbidden Zone

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Seabiscuit

Looking for Eric


Looking for Eric

Steve Evets and Eric Cantona share a Zen moment.

(2009) Family Drama (IFC) Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop, Gerard Kearns, Stefan Gumbs, Lucy-Jo Hudson, Cole Williams, Dylan Williams, Matthew McNulty, Laura Ainsworth, Maxton Beesley, Kelly Bowland. Directed by Ken Loach

We all need a little help once in awhile. Sometimes we turn to friends or loved ones, sometimes to a professional. However, when we are being advised by a personal hero, are we just hearing what we want to hear? Or is the advice worthwhile?

Eric Bishop (Evets) is a postal worker in Manchester whose life is falling apart. His stepsons are drifting into thuggery – especially his son Ryan (Kearns) under whose floorboards he finds a drug dealer’s gun – and he regrets walking out on his wife Lily (Bishop) after the birth of his daughter Sam (Hudson), who now has a baby of her own.

He’s 50 and the regrets of a life that he realizes has been messed up beyond all recognition are beginning to sink in. After an impromptu therapy session and the smoking of some stolen weed, Bishop hallucinates his favorite football (what he call soccer – not the American kind) hero Eric Cantona (playing himself) from his beloved Manchester United side popping in to give him advice.

At first Bishop chalks it up to the stress but when Cantona begins to turn up more often he kind of just goes with it. As Ryan’s involvement with the drug dealer begins to escalate into a conflict, Bishop’s friends try to help him out of his jam. However, can anything help him win back his lost love again?

Director Ken Loach is one of England’s best-known and most respected directors. He has a knack for capturing working class Englishmen realistically and naturally. This may be his most mainstream film to date, looking at an ordinary Joe as he reaches the half century mark, full of regrets, stressed out by life and longing for simpler times.

The movie probably would have gotten wider release over here but the language and situation is steadfastly and unapologetically English; most distributors felt (and rightly so) that Americans wouldn’t have the patience for a movie of this nature. I honestly can’t blame them on that score.

However it is a shame – this is the kind of movie that leaves you with a very warm feeling inside. Evets and Cantona have a lovely rapport that infuses the movie with its charm and a certain amount of quirkiness. Cantona seems to have a gentle sense of self-parody, particularly with the image of a cocky, arrogant footballer; he plays trumpet, and he has a little bit of eccentricity as well that is refreshing. Professional athletes are often zealous about maintaining a certain image, so it’s refreshing to see one that is willing to look a little bit out of the box in that regard.

Evets is to my mind a big find here. He plays the embattled postal worker with a certain amount of honesty and grace. His Eric Bishop isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, nor does he have all the answers. He’s made some critical mistakes in his life and doesn’t have a hope of erasing all the ill will he’s generated over the years and yet he’s willing to try and make amends. Better late than never, I say, and watching Evets occasionally stumble through his issues makes him more relatable to my mind.

This is a movie that I don’t think was given much of a chance in the States and while I understand where distributors came from, this is one of those movies that I think deserve to be given a chance. There is always a small segment of American moviegoers who will find a movie that is well-made, even if they don’t always understand the cultural norms behind it. I’m sure if I lived in England and understood the working-class Mancunian culture I’d have had a greater appreciation for Looking for Eric but like the multiple meaning title, there’s plenty to appreciate even if you know nothing about Eric Cantona or the English working class.

WHY RENT THIS: As a slice of life for working class England, this is outstanding.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The jargon and accent may be a little difficult for the American audience to understand, as well as some of the football background.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of foul language and a little bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Evets and Cantona are better known for other professions; Cantona as a professional footballer, Evets as a former bassist for The Fall.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there isn’t much on the DVD edition, the Blu-Ray has a couple of short films, a music video and a roundtable Q&A with director Ken Loach, star Steve Evets and soccer great Eric Cantona.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11.5M on an unreported production budget; my guess is that the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Accepted

Body of Lies


Body of Lies

Russell Crowe and Leonardo di Caprio share a Starbucks moment.

(Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Simon McBurney, Ali Suliman, Alon Aboutboul. Directed by Ridley Scott

Living on the front lines of the War on Terror is like sleeping with a time bomb. You never know when, or if, it is going to go off.

Roger Ferris (di Caprio) is an American field operative of the CIA assigned to the Middle East division. He is fluent in Arabic, whip-smart and streetwise. He has been assigned by his boss, Ed Hoffman (Crowe) to apprehend one of the major players in Jihadist terrorism, Al-Saleem (Aboutboul) and he has a golden opportunity to take a step closer to that goal – a suicide bomber wants to defect. The fact that he’s even met with Americans is a death sentence for him and he knows it. The nervous terrorist wants asylum in exchange for his information which concerns a training facility the jihadists use. Ferris offers it to him but Hoffman vetoes it; the information they’d receive from following his inevitable murderers would be far more valuable than the intelligence the man has given them. Thoroughly upset, Ferris turns the man loose and heads up a surveillance team on the man. Predictably, their contact is killed and the terrorists are able to get away.

Angry at the waste of a potential informant, Ferris decides to attack the training facility to see if there’s information he can glean to salvage the debacle. He and his partner get in there and manage to retrieve some documents that the terrorists are in the process of burning, knowing that the Americans likely knew about the training camp and might soon be there. Ferris escapes after a running gun battle with the terrorists chasing his SUV, but his partner dies in the process and Ferris is badly injured.

Recovering from his injuries, Ferris learns that the seized documents yielded the location of a safe house for the terrorist organization in Amman, Jordan. Knowing that Ferris is his best man, Hoffman sends him to the American embassy where the CIA station chief is a bumbling idiot who takes umbrage at being shuffled off to the side in lieu of Ferris. The Jordan station doesn’t have the manpower to keep the safe house under constant surveillance so Ferris knows he’ll have to go to the Jordanian Head of State Security, Hani Salaam (Strong), an urbane and sophisticated man who understands the realities of espionage in the 21st century and senses a kindred spirit in Ferris.

The first day things go straight to hell. On the orders of Hoffman, one of the CIA flunkies spooks one of the terrorist informants, leading to a chase down the back alleys of Amman. The informant gets away and Ferris is bitten by a rabid dog. He is taken to a Jordanian clinic where he is ministered to by a comely nurse named Aisha (Farahani), who strikes up a friendship with Ferris that leads to deeper feelings.

In the meantime, the relationship with Hani is deteriorating as Ferris is constantly having the legs cut out from under him on operations by Hoffman, who is under political pressure to get results. Eventually, things get so bad that the safe house is abandoned and burned and Hani orders Ferris out of the country.

Back in the states, Ferris concocts a plan to set up a fictitious terrorist cell in order to flush out Al-Saleem, using an innocent architect (Suliman) as bait. The trap is set, but will the terrorist take the bait? And can Ferris trust his own superiors not to stab him in the back?

Ridley Scott is an A-list director with Oscar winners and classics to his credit. Here he’s more or less attempting a John Le Carre-style spy thriller modernized and set in the War on Terror. Unfortunately, the spy game has changed a great deal since the Cold War and while Ferris gets beat up an awful lot, we never get a sense that he’s in constant jeopardy. Just about everything comes at him head-on rather from left field.

Di Caprio is also an A-lister and has shown that he has the acting chops to handle anything, but I got a strange sense of detatchment from watching his performance here. He does a lot of yelling and a lot of swearing but he doesn’t seem emotionally involved, at least to me. Crowe – who gained 50 pounds for his role – has less to do but makes his bureaucratic spook more harrowing, someone who is playing a game in which human lives are collateral damage. He is charming, which makes the role all the more chilling.

Surprisingly, Mark Strong gives the most memorable performance for my money. Well-dressed, impeccably mannered and polite, he could have stepped out of a James Bond movie, but rather than making him a caricature, Strong instead imbues him with a certain street smarts that gives him the air of a cobra, biding its time before striking with terrifying speed and ferocity.

The romance between Aisha and Ferris is essentially a vehicle to give Ferris a personal stake in the denouement, but Farahani manages to give her character charm and likability, enough that we want to spend more time with her. Some of the best scenes in the movie explore the cultural difficulties in carrying on a romance with a Westerner for someone in her character’s position in life, but unfortunately those scenes are rare here.

Some of this is standard spy 101, but overall the acting is good enough, the actors charming enough to make this worth seeing, particularly as it’s on cable pretty regularly at the moment. I get the feeling that Scott wanted to illustrate the difficulties of doing fieldwork in the War on Terror when there are political concerns that keep the front line personnel from carrying out their tasks. This isn’t a bad movie, but I think there was a better one in the subtexts.

WHY RENT THIS: Scott is one of the finest directors at setting tension on film today. Di Caprio is solid in the lead and he gets able support from Crowe, Strong and Farahani.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There are some missed opportunities here as the film often takes the easy way out in terms of plot by using standard Hollywood devices.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a surfeit of violence and bad language, also a fairly graphic scene of torture; add it all up and it means put the kids to bed before putting this on the DVD player.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scenes set in Manchester and Munich was actually filmed in the United States. The only location filming done on this movie which was set in places throughout the world were the United States and Morocco.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition includes an interactive track that allows viewers to see behind-the-scenes features concurrently with watching the movie by pressing a button on their remotes; it is much like the New Line Infinifilm feature that used to be on DVDs back when they actually had special features.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Gladiator