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By Joe Bendel. You have to have a real Zen-like attitude to successfully manage Alice Cooper. The drugs did not hurt either, at least in the early years. Starting with Alice Cooper (the band), Gordon expanded his roster to include clients like Anne Murray. You could call that a career. It certainly provides plenty of anecdotal grist for friend-of-Shep Mike Myers’ affectionate portrait Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, which had a special Tribeca Talks screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

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In true 1960s fashion, Gordon started managing Alice Cooper as a cover for his causal but considerable drug-dealing income. When law enforcement started getting nosy, he decided to make management a full time gig. The early years were tough, but Cooper (the man) gives Gordon credit for eventually making good on all the motel bills they skipped out on.

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Eventually, Gordon’s long-term strategy—make parents hate Alice Cooper—paid off handsomely. Gordon would subsequently manage Murray, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, and Groucho Marx (the latter more as a fan’s act of devotion than as a money-making concern). Perhaps the most eye-opening sequence explains Gordon’s role in kicking off the celebrity chef phenomenon, making Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck rich and famous in the process. Of course, Cooper plays a central role in Myers’ profile, which makes sense both from a biographical standpoint and as an endless source of good material.

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From "Supermensch."

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As it happens, Supermensch is one of three interconnecting docs that played at this year’s Tribeca. Obviously, Gordon appears in Super Duper Alice Cooper and vice versa, but Cooper also briefly appears An Honest Liar, explaining the Amazing Randi’s role devising the guillotine routine for his stage show. All three are entertaining, but Super Duper’s rock & roll attitude combined with its Jekyll & Hyde psychoanalysis is ultimately more compelling than the breezy show biz vibe of Supermensch. By the way, if Gordon and Cooper had a connection to Bob Weir it did not come up in The Other One.

Regardless, the first-time director clearly had no trouble getting his fellow FOS’s to talk. Just about all of it is pretty funny stuff. Occasionally, Gordon gets serious, but Myers never lets that last, keeping things snappy throughout. For the post-screening discussion, Michael Douglas (another FOS) interviewed Gordon, eliciting more reminiscences. Frankly, a good number were repeats from the film, but you could say they were observing rock & roll’s “greatest hits” tradition. A pleasant source of bubbly, low calorie laughs and nostalgia, Supermensch is recommended for Boomer rock fans and aspiring talent managers. A crowd-pleaser at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon also screens tonight (5/2) during the San Francisco International Film Festival.


Posted on May 2nd, 2014 at 11:28pm.

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By Joe Bendel. Caroline looks considerably younger than her husband Philippe, but he still practices dentistry, whereas she has retired. That means she has time on her hands. Much to her surprise, she will find things to do at an upscale senior center that happens to employ a much younger but surprisingly receptive personal computing teacher. Fanny Ardant takes a diva turn in Marion Vernoux’s adultery drama Bright Days Ahead, which screened during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Caroline is not adapting well to retirement. When her grown daughters buy her a trial membership at the Bright Days Ahead senior’s club, she nearly has a fit. You can hardly blame her—a name like that sounds like some sort of rehab clinic. Reluctantly, she starts going to Julien’s computer classes when their home PC goes on the Fritz. Before long, some cougar-himbo hanky-panky commences. Unfortunately, her increasing recklessness leads to inevitable exposure.

Even with the not exactly jaw-dropping age difference between the not-so secret lovers, Bright is a pretty standard exercise in cinematic infidelity. Yes, Ardant still has it, but what distinguishes Vernoux’s otherwise conventional screenplay (co-written with Fanny Chesnel) are a handful of blisteringly honest scenes and a quiet gut-check performance from Patrick Chesnais as the wronged husband.

Philippe is indeed wronged, a fact that Vernoux and Chesnel do nothing to water-down. Refusing to be conveniently submissive, he is a dignified yet emotionally messy rebuke to the of pat empowerment themes often bandied about by adulterous wife movies. Similarly, Caroline goes into the affair remarkably clear-headed, even helping Julien keep up appearances with his younger lovers. However, you might have to be a sixty-some year old French woman to appreciate the charms of Laurent Lafitte’s Julien.

Without question, it is the veterans Ardant and Chesnais who make Bright work to the extent it does, particularly in their scenes together. Rather undistinguished looking, it still has enough incisive moments that pop to make the whole worthwhile. Recommended for Francophiles, Bright Days Ahead has already opened in New York at the Quad Cinema, following its American premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It also screens this Sunday (5/4) at the Montclair Film Film Festival in Jersey.


Posted on May 2nd, 2014 at 11:21pm.

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By Joe Bendel. Matthew VanDyke’s only formal military training came while he was an embedded reporter with the American military in Iraq. There were those in the Libyan rebel army who had far less, but they were not a sheltered twenty-seven year-old living with a conspicuous case of OCD. Relying on travel and combat footage shot by VanDyke himself, Marshall Curry documents his journey from a homebody who had never even done his own laundry to a POW of Gaddafi’s notorious Abu Salim prison in Point and Shoot, which won the Best Documentary Feature Award at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Partly at the prodding of his girlfriend Lauren Fischer, the underachieving VanDyke set out to remake himself into a sort of gonzo travel journalist motorcycling through the Middle East. It worked to some extent. By virtue of proximity, he was able to cover Iraq for a local Maryland paper. Not surprisingly, he got along famously with the troops he followed, most of whom he still considers friends. The instruction they gave him on the shooting range would also serve him well.

Through his travels, VanDyke also made fast friends with hippie Libyan tourist Nuri Funas, whose home he illegally visited before the war erupted. When the Arab Spring reached Libya, VanDyke also returned, determined to fight for and alongside his new friends. Unfortunately, he was captured during an ambush shortly thereafter, but that would hardly be the last word on his warfighting experiences.

Hipper readers might recognize VanDyke as the director of the short but intense documentary, Not Anymore, which dramatically captures the boots-on-the-ground reality in Syria (now available on-line). It is safe to say recent years have been eventful for the filmmaker, considering Curry only takes viewers through VanDyke’s Libyan period.

From "Point and Shoot."

He tells the story well, framing VanDyke’s footage with a confessional interview—he is almost like the twenty-first century equivalent of a Joseph Conrad narrator, except he has the video to verify his narrative. For obvious reasons, VanDyke has no footage from his time held in solitary confinement, but Curry compensates with Joe Posner’s stark 3D animation sequences, modeled from the very walls of VanDyke’s former cell.

VanDyke’s chronicle is pretty darn dramatic (and still developing). While just about everyone with a handheld device might be recording the world around them, you have to be in a warzone to shoot a battle selfie. Indeed, the filmmaker-freedom fighter captures some powerful and illuminating images. Altogether, it celebrates freedom and human dignity for all, as well as the very American practice of self-reinvention. Highly recommended, Point and Shoot is sure to have a long festival life after winning the World Documentary Competition at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It is already scheduled to screen this Wednesday (4/30), Thursday (5/1), and Saturday (5/3) during Hot Docs in Toronto.


Posted on April 30th, 2014 at 11:33pm.

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By Joe Bendel. Like the old thesps of yore, Kevin Spacey assembled a classical theater troupe to tour like mad, performing Shakespeare’s Richard III in countries throughout the increasingly globalized world. There had to be some craziness going on backstage, but you will be hard-pressed to find any in Jeremy Wheeler’s sanitized-for-your-protection behind-the-scenes documentary, NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage, which opens this Friday at the IFC Center following its special screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

When Kevin Spacey and Sam Mendes announced Richard III would be their first collaboration since American Beauty, the theater world sat up and took notice. Indeed, it is a good thing Mendes was on-board, because he provides some of the film’s most thoughtful commentary. Yet, it would still probably be more interesting to hear him talk about Skyfall.

By all accounts, Richard III was an artistic triumph. Many critics see a direct correlation between Spacey’s Richard and his Francis Underwood in Netflix’s cable-killing House of Cards. Unfortunately, Spacey does not have much to say about that. He would rather sing the praises of his cast members.

From "NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage."

It seems like everyone involved on the Richard III utterly adored every last one of their colleagues, which is jolly nice for them, but absolute dullsville to watch. Frankly, NOW has the depth and drama of a making-of DVD extra. Sure, the staging looks spectacularly ambitious (particularly in Greece’s Epidaurus theater, circa 400 B.C.), but the best way to appreciate it would have been by seeing the production live. For the most part, viewers must be content to watch as cast members discover the Great Wall of China is really long and the desert in Qatar is rather sandy.

In a way, NOW is the high-brow equivalent of the bloopers that ran over the closing credits of old Burt Reynolds movies, in which everyone works very hard to show us how much fun they were having. This is such a lightweight trifle, especially when compared to the other robustly entertaining documentaries that played this year’s Tribeca. Of interest only to Spacey’s hardcore stalker-fans, but certainly not recommended for everyday civilians, the awkwardly titled NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage opens this Friday (5/2) at the IFC Center.


April 30th, 2014 at 11:28pm.

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By Joe Bendel. Nicky Salapu is like the FIFA equivalent of the Mets’ profoundly unlucky Anthony Young. You have to pitch decently to set the all time consecutive losing game record without getting busted down to the minors. Likewise, the fact that Salapu was never pulled from goal during American Samoa’s record-setting 31-0 loss to Australia says something about his competitive spirit. The underfunded volunteer national team subsequently became the butt of the soccer world’s jokes, but a new coach will try to change their losing ways. Mike Brett & Steve Jamison document their turnaround efforts at the regional World Cup qualifying tournament in Next Goal Wins, which is now playing in New York following a high-profile “Drive-In” screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

In seventeen years, the American Samoan team never won an official game and only managed to score two goals. After another agonizing season, team management appeals to the American Federation for help. U.S. Soccer tries to recruit a game-changer coach, but they only get one taker: mad Dutchman Thomas Rongen. He is a hardnose’s hardnose, who does not seem interested in making friends, but he sees something in the team. He respects Salapu’s grit and admires the integrity of Jaiyeh Saelua, a transgender defender (considered part of Samoa’s traditional fa’afafine “third gender’).

There are a lot of surprises in this scrappy underdog story, including the evolution of Rongen. Still reeling from a personal tragedy, Rongen starts connecting with his players, finding something he did not even know he was looking for. He also knows football cold. Still, the odds are still stacked against his team.

Brett & Jamison capture some legitimately touching moments and ratchet up the suspense during the qualifier. As Steve at Unseen Films can verify, at one point during the tournament, your faithful correspondent let loose an all too audible “dammit.” That’s getting caught up in the action.

American Samoa should start making licensing deals, because Goal is destined to become a sleeper hit over time and just about every sports fan who watches it will want to wear their colors. It might be tempting to say it illustrates the old saying: “it’s not about winning or losing, but how you play the game.” Yet this is too pat and simplistic. Throughout Goal we witness the team risking the worst sort of humiliation and mockery, because of the pride they take in representing American Samoa.

Something about this film just hits you on a deep level, but it is also quite lively and at times enormously funny. Highly recommended, Next Goal Wins screened as part of the sports programming at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival before opening this past Friday at the Cinema Village.


Posted on April 27th, 2014 at 10:22pm.

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From "Extraterrestrial."

By Joe Bendel. Ever heard of an alien abduction in the City? No you haven’t. As Rick Blaine would say, there are some New Yorkers you wouldn’t recommend poking and prodding. However, a group of college kids planning to party away the weekend in a cabin near the lake do not stand a chance in The Vicious Brothers’ Extraterrestrial, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Right, since Kyle is planning to pop the question to April during their romantic country getaway, he naturally invites his loud mouth buddy Seth and two generic bimbos along, without consulting her. Meanwhile, she is polishing her its-not-you-its-me script. Things get so awkward it is almost a relief when the aliens get to unleashing their standard issue strobe light effects. At least before they left, April’s newly divorced dad asked her to bring back his shotgun and fishing rod, so we know what that foreshadows—some intense fly-fishing.

Frankly, Extraterrestrial starts on a promising note, sounding a lot like an attitude-fueled Kevin Williamson take on the alien abduction genre, but halfway through it starts presenting its warmed over UFO themes with inappropriate seriousness. While the Viciouses’ cult favorite Grave Encounters tightly controlled the mood and pace, Extraterrestrial rattles all over the place. Even the big special effect sequence set inside the mothership looks nearly indistinguishable from similar scenes in films like Independence Day and the upcoming The Signal.

Still, the Brothers Vicious have an ace up their sleeve with genre legend Michael Ironside (as in Scanners, Total Recall, and V the original series) as Travis, the super-patriotic conspiracy theorist pot farmer and an old friend of April’s family. Whenever he growls and swaggers into the narrative, the energy level surges. Believe or not, Gil Bellows is also not bad as plodding Sheriff Murphy, who must have the lowest case closure rate of any law enforcement officer in the country.

From "Extraterrestrial."

You know Travis has plenty of guns, which would bode well for zombie survivability, but not so much for alien party-crashers. It makes you wonder what would happen if they abducted zombies – or better yet, zombeavers. Still, most of the cast are rather zombie-like. Daytime Emmy winner Brittany Allen has a bit of presence as April and Jesse Moss could not possibly be any more annoying as Seth, but the other kids fade so quickly from memory, it is hard to say there were ever really there in the first place.

Extraterrestrial pulls off a cool bit of business with a telephone booth, but it lacks the tension and vivid sense of place that made the original Grave such a breakneck monster. Instead, it slowly coasts downhill. Just okay for raucous midnight viewing, fans should not expect too much from Extraterrestrial, following its debut at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.


Posted on April 27th, 2014 at 10:17pm.

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