Monday, August 19, 2019

film review: Aquarela

Directed by Victor Kossakovsky

ChinoKino score: B

Review by Allan Tong

Aquarela is Portuguese for "watercolour" and an apt title for a 90-minute visual essay about the power of water. Think of the Koyaanisqatsi films, visual feasts portraying nature without any narration or characters. These are films you have to watch on a big screen, unless your home movie theatre backs out into a drive-in.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

film review: Cold Case Hammarskjöld

Directed by Mads Brügger

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

Cold Case Hammarskjöld asks, Did somebody murder United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld?

In 1961, African nations were shaking off their European colonial masters to be independent. Sweden's Dag Hammarskjöld backed their independence, but upset European governments and big mining corporations who were making money off the continent. One night, Hammarskjöld's airplane went down in northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) as Hammarskjöld was heading to attend cease-fire negotiations during the Congo Crisis. The official reason for the crash was pilot error, but Danish director Mads Brügger calls that a lie. His film explores the cause of the crash in a painstaking search that unspools like a murder mystery.

Friday, August 2, 2019

film review: David Crosby: Remember My Name

Directed by A.J. Eaton

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

I don't like David Crosby, even though he played for two of my favourite bands: The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. My reason: Crosby is a spoilt, arrogant loudmouth who's lucky he's gotten this far.

So, I'm surprised that A.J. Eaton's new documentary sums up these exact sentiments--and straight from Crosby's mouth without any sugarcoasting. At 76, the ailing and broke Crosby knows that the road ahead is short, so in Remember My Name he reflects on his rocky past and gets a ton of things off his chest. "Time is the final currency," he says.

Crosby came from a privileged upbringing and became a star with legendary L.A. band, the Byrds, at 23, when they hit number one by fusing Bob Dylan and the Beatles in Mr. Tambourine Man. Three years and several hits later, head Byrd, Roger McGuinn, kicked Crosby out of the group for being an asshole. This is a theme in Crosby's life. "Big ego, no brains," Crosby himself admits.

After the Byrds, he fell in love with newcomer Joni Mitchell. Unlike McGuinn, Mitchell (sadly) doesn't appear on camera, but Croby's recollections are vivid and frank. Falling in love with her, he admits, "was like falling into a cement mixer." He recalls the moment she bitterly broke up with Crosby by playing him a new song. Twice.

"I don't think I was a good lover," he confesses. "I was selfish." Graciously, though, Crosby praises Mitchell as a songwriter without peer.

Crosby then joined Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It's no secret that this was a volatile group. Eaton uses home movies throughout the film, and there is one cringeworthy moment when CSN quarrel and Crosby is angrily called a hypocrite over some matter.

As CSNY became America's number-one band, Crosby's longtime girlfriend, Christine Hinton, was killed in a car accident. This tragedy triggered his long descent into heroin and cocaine that led to a prison term in 1982.

Her death and his temper are his Achilles heels, and he admits he shouldn't be alive. "I was tremendously lucky--and didn't realize how lucky I was."

Though it's a cliche, music keeps him going. The film follows him on the road recently as an aging, grey-haired solo singer who admits he needs to rest more between dates. He's diabetic and suffers from heart problems, the price of decades of self-abuse. His condition is so rough that his wife, Jan, fears that each time Crosby leaves on tour, she may never see him again.

Crosby can still sing. His voice soars in those concert clips. His voice rings with conviction when he recalls the best music he recorded in the past. One highlight of the film is him revisiting Kent State and recalling the infamous 1970 shooting of four students that inspired CSNY to record Ohio, one of rock's most powerful protest songs.

CSNY continued to sing that anthem until a few years ago, when Crosby carelessly slagged Neil Young's new wife, Darryl Hannah, on live radio. The two haven't talked since, but Graham Nash won't talk to him either. The film is sketchy about the reasons why and, inexplicably, doesn't mention that Nash bought Crosby's publishing rights during Crosby's junkie years and sold them back to him at cost. That was a magnanimous act that litereally saved Crosby's ass. It's annoying that the film doesn't completely explain why Nash refuses to talk to Crosby anymore.

Cameron Crowe does a fine job interviewing Crosby on camera. Crowe first interviewed him 1974 when he was a teenage Rolling Stone reporter. Eaton relies heavily on these interviews, plus those of Crosby's former bandmates and acquaintances, like the Eagles' Glenn Frey. He wisely employs home movies shot by Crosby and modern animation to illustrate moments like the Byrds firing Crosby.

Credit Crosby for opening his life so nakedly in this film. Here's a man with many regrets. I still don't like the guy as a person, but I walked away from this film understanding him and, yes, feeling sorry for him.