Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Echo in the Canyon -- Review

Echo in the Canyon -- Documentary review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Laurel Canyon is a peaceful wooded enclave separated from the bustle and concrete of Los Angeles by a steep hill.   In the late 1960s, an astounding collection of musical talent settled along its twisting roads.  Many became friends and collaborated on some of the most memorable music of that era.

In 2015, producer-director Andrew Slater and Jakob Dylan collected a group of contemporary artists to perform a tribute concert, and this documentary is Slater's and Dylan's way of sharing both with the world.  Dylan, as host, toggles between roundtable discussion with the concert performers (Fiona Apple, Beck, Jade Castrinos, Cat Power, Norah Jones, and others) and stars of that era (Michelle Phillips, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and record producer Lou Adler, to name a few), and he ties them together with interviews of rock legends who both influenced and were influenced by the Canyon gang (Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne, and, most notably, Tom Petty, who acts as a co-narrator and to whom the film is dedicated).

We learn the inner dynamics of this society--why Crosby was bounced from the Byrds; how Stills got out of a drug bust, leaving Clapton, Nash, and Neil Young holding the bag; Phillips' embracing of the free-love spirit of the era.  But these gossipy items pale in comparison to meaty observations: the profound effect Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds, had on Canyon artists.  Stills of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash adds that one group’s influences became another’s inspirations. There is agreement that it all started with The Beatles and the sounds George Harrison produced with his 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.  McGuinn, for example, used the sound to meld an “old folk song and souping it up with a Beatle beat.”  Regina Spektor provides one of the most interesting insights during a contemporary round table when she observes that the songs of that era have a more dreamlike quality than their predecessors, and she wonders if the Laurel Canyon musicians were getting in touch with their unconscious minds.  These are but a few insights among the many highlights of the film.

This is not to say it's perfect, though.  The presence of former Capitol Records CEO Slater, despite his obvious contributions and expertise, detracts from the doc.  Witness his hyperbolic (and wildly inaccurate) claim that The Byrds’ 1965 debut album was the first time “a song of poetic depth and grace had become a hit.” (We wonder what Capitol Records co-founder Johnny Mercer, who wrote Moon River and Days of Wine and Roses-- would say about that.)  There is also the head-scratching decision to use footage from Jacques Demy’s 1969 film Model Shop for historical atmosphere.  Rather we would have seen time devoted to Laurel Canyon neighbors Carole King, pictured but uncredited for her contributions and brilliance; Frank Zappa referenced not for his mad talent but only as a kind of mad street preacher.  But at least they show up, which is more that we can say for Joni Mitchell and Jim Morrison.  Oh well, Slater had his narrative--to tie his and Jakob Dylan's eponymous concert with the documentary.  We only wish Slater had absented himself and the French art film and added time to the trim 82-minute film and paid tribute to these other legends, as well.
7.5 out of 10 

Honeyland (Doc) The Peanut Butter Falcon (Indie) Quick Reviews

A Documentary and an Independent Film -- by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

While waiting for the big fall movie season to kick into action, we ventured out to arthouses to see some interesting little films that we recommend heartily.  They will be difficult to find, and by the time you read this, they soon will be available for streaming.  Here are some brief reviews:

Honeyland - Documentary

"Take half, leave half” is the mantra Hatidze, a 55-year-old Macedonian beekeeper relates as she scales a precipitous mountain terrain to harvest honey from a golden hive she has hidden behind rocks in a cliffside.  She also visits a hive in a tree that has fallen across a rapid stream, "Half for me, half for the bees."  And in her rugged settlement nearby, she also keeps bees, handling the hives deftly with her bare hands, the bees unperturbed by her presence.  She shares a meager but happy life in a tiny candlelit hut with her aged and ailing mother, Nazife, living off of the sale of the golden nectar she bottles and sells after a long trek to market in the city of Skopje.

The gorgeously photographed documentary is an enthralling and ultimately bittersweet study of the symbiotic coexistence of species and how easily the harmonious balance of life can be upset by greed and disregard of Nature.  Honeyland's directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov earned three awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for World Cinema - Documentary: Cinematography, the Grand Jury Prize, and the Special Jury Award for Impact and Change.
9.0 out of 10

The Peanut Butter Falcon - Drama

The personal odyssey is a popular trope in filmdom.  It captures the imagination; the greater the goal, the greater the odds, the more compelling the story. IN PBF, we have the odds, and the ultimate goal depends on one's perspective, but to Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young adult with Down Syndrome the goal is worthy.  Misplaced in a Richmond retirement home, Zak plots more escapes than Steve McQueen, despite the personal interest and care of his social worker, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson).  Inspired by an old VHS tape in which professional wrestler, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). invites all comers to attend his training center, and aided and abetted by his roommate Carl (Bruce Dern), Zak finally makes a successful break.  Down the road, Tyler (Shia LeBeouf) is also held captive, but his escape is not so easy, for his prison is guilt, which manifests in anti-social behavior.  When Tyler strikes out at some fishermen, he too must hit the road as their vicious redneck leader Duncan (John Hawkes) seeks revenge.  So do the paths of Tyler and Zak converge.

Writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz were inspired to make PBF after meeting Zack Gottsagen, and they quickly assembled an excellent cast of believers who signed on, even given the fact that some roles are mere cameos--Jon Bernthal exists merely in flashbacks as Tyler's brother and Academy Award nominee John Hawkes does his best in a severely underwritten caricature.  On the other hand, Shia LeBeouf and Dakota Johnson have never been better.  This is a true indie in every sense of the word, but the commitment of Nilson, Schwartz, and the cast, along with a warm and inspirational story, led by the appealing Gottsagen show why independent films, for all of their budget constraints, are often the most rewarding.  This SXSW Film Festival Audience Award winner if definitely worth your time.
7.5 out of 10

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