It takes strong vision to find new ways of shooting a concert movie, but Jonathan Demme does it in his outstanding documentary Neil Young: Heart of Gold. Filmed in a Nashville auditorium over two nights, Demme doesn’t give us any crowd shots. The usual scope and spectacle of filmed concerts is done away with for a creation of intimacy. Last year’s post-aneurysm Prairie Wind album is presented live, in sequence and in its entirety (minus “He Was The King”). Demme translates what concertgoers and musicians mean when they sometimes refer to great rock shows as a form of church. The demystifying close-ups of the band bring the feeling and meaning of Prairie Wind’s meditative songs closer than listening to them on a CD. Each nostalgic lyrical image in “It’s A Dream” is written over Young’s face. By the time the climactic “When God Made Me” hits, it’s so emotionally direct as to be spiritually profound. As Young and his comrades then play some classic material, Heart of Gold has surpassed a mere performance piece to become an aging man’s musical reflection on his life so far.
The electricity of a performer on stage before a crowd isn’t made authentic in the plastic but amiable American Dreamz. Mandy Moore’s slight resemblance to Kelly Clarkson has her as a hopeful for the movie’s titular play on American Idol. As Sally Kendoo, Moore is pitched as the show’s white trash contestant, although her southern living is above modest. She breaks up with her devoted boyfriend (Chris Klein), while growing strategic affection to the Simon Cowell-like host (Hugh Grant). Also competing is Arab terrorist Omer (Sam Golzari), an audience favourite. The reality TV scenario, where contestant failure becomes the pleasure of viewers and network ratings, gives American Dreamz its central interest. (The title’s hip misspelling encompasses how everyone wants to appear like they’re “with it.”) Like Altman’s Nashville, Spielberg’s 1941 and Burton’s Mars Attacks!, it’s a satire of American life at the brink of apocalypse. Yet American Dreamz hasn’t the reckless charge of those films. It wants to be mean while remaining comfortably lovable. A storyline where Bush-modelled president Staton (Dennis Quaid) reexamines his policies not only takes obvious shots, it keeps the movie from a concise goal. Writer-director Paul Weitz almost makes a good movie about how the 21st-century media influence means everybody believes they’re entitled to die famous, but he steps short of getting anywhere.
Silent Hill is more respectable than enjoyable, a unique feat for a video game movie, and one that keeps it entertaining for 20 minutes. The adaptation by director Christophe Gans (The Brotherhood of the Wolf) and writer Roger Avary (The Rules of Attraction) skimps on the sexually frustrated demolition of Doom for atmospheric horror. The largely female cast find themselves in the ghost town of Silent Hill, where Rose (Radha Mitchell) brings her daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) because she’s been having nightmares about it. Gans interjects Suspiria-influenced suspense with odd touches, but without gristle on it or disturbance behind it, there’s little to invest in. It turns into a drag. Avary does his best to keep characters spouting lines comprised solely of monosyllabic words.
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