Back Row Reviews: Movie Reviews by James Dawson




Back Row Reviews
by
James Dawson
stjamesdawson.com

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Unbreakable
(Reviewed November 16, 2000, by James Dawson)

Bruce Willis essentially reprises his "Sixth Sense" role in this kind-of-flat follow-up to that vastly overpraised film. Although he is playing a different character, virtually all of his mannerisms are the same: The dull delivery, the just-woke-up-and-don't-have-it-together-yet attitude, the permanently blank stare. Substituting for Haley Joel Osment this time around is that little boy from "Gladiator" who looks like a little girl.

This probably will be the only review of "Unbreakable" that does NOT reveal any aspect of the story. That's not because the plot is anything great, but because in these kinds of movies the ending is everything, so spoiling it would be rather churlish. (An aside: Last year, one of those screechingly awful guest-critics who popped up in Siskel's vacated chair on "Siskel & Ebert" was stupidly arrogant enough to ruin the ending of "Sixth Sense" by saying -- STOP READING RIGHT NOW IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE DOZEN OR SO PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO HAS NOT SEEN "SIXTH SENSE" -- that the climax reminded him of Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire." Which reminds me of the time my younger brother and one of his friends were leaving an opening-day showing of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," and yelled to people who were waiting in line for the next show, "Spock dies! Kirk has an illegitimate son!" Tsk, tsk, tsk.)

Without revealing any "Unbreakable" details, I will say that this movie never really took off for me. I kept waiting for a big payoff that turned out to be a small payoff. And the surprise ending is okay, but only if you don't think about it. (The movie would have been over in five minutes if...oh, never mind.)

Even with all of those criticisms, at least this movie is something different. And I actually like that deadpan character Bruce Willis keeps playing in all of his "serious" movies. Hey, if Nicholson and De Niro can keep playing the same guy with different names, why not "Bruno?"

So if you go to the theater expecting a medium-quality "Twilight Zone"-type tale--not one of the true classics, but one that at least does not make you think that the writer regards you as a complete moron--you won't be too disappointed. Faint praise, maybe, but that's about all the excitement I can muster for this one-note, low-key dirge.

Back Row Grade: C






Undercover Brother
(Reviewed May 19, 2002, by James Dawson)

More pure fun than "Spider-Man" and "Attack of the Clones" put together! (How's that for a quote that should be picked up by the studio's marketing department and used in all of the print ads?)

This good-natured sendup of 1970s blaxploitation movies is full of "Airplane!"-style, so-dumb-they're-hilarious gags. It's not exactly big-budget (to say the least), and not all of the jokes work, but the ones that do more than compensate for the clunkers. Billy Dee Williams' press conference as a Colin Powell-type general was so over-the-top outrageous that it literally made me laugh out loud. This movie is so cheerfully politically incorrect that it refers to super-hot blond babe Denise Richards as "black man's Kryptonite," and equips Undercover Brother with a spy-gadget watch that shoots hot sauce.

Eddie Griffin plays Undercover Brother with a kind of laid-back, stupid cool, working for an organization called The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. (whose initials are never explained) with fellow agents Sistah Girl, Smart Brother, Conspiracy Brother...and Neil Patrick "Doogie Howser" Harris as the white intern who had to be hired by the organization to meet affirmative-action requirements. They go up against an organization run by The Man, who employs Richards as the agent known as "White She-Devil." Like I said: It's dumb, but it really is pretty funny.

And if you need further incentive to see it, let me just say: Denise Richards in a costume-ripping catfight that ends up in the shower. 'Nuff said?

Back Row Grade: B





Under Suspicion
(Reviewed August 30, 2000, by James Dawson)

In this play-like, mostly two-character drama, lawman Morgan Freeman spends nearly the entire movie interrogating suspect Gene Hackman about a pair of murders. (Pointless aside: When Freeman and Hackman last worked together in "Unforgiven," their roles were reversed!) I liked this movie a lot...right up until the last five minutes, when I sat watching in slack-jawed disbelief as the film was sabotaged from within by a flat-out TERRIBLE ending. Honestly, I don't think I have seen a more awful ending to an otherwise enjoyable movie since "The Game." A flashing light should come on five minutes before the conclusion, along with the warning, "LEAVE THEATER NOW! THIS MOVIE IS ABOUT TO BE RUINED! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!"

One real treat, though, is the impossibly beautiful actress Monica Bellucci, who plays Hackman's much-younger wife. My God, she is stunning. Big, pillowy lips...long, straight, jet-black hair...a bustline that will make your eyes pop out of your head and your tongue unroll onto the floor...excuse me, I feel faint. She even appears partially undressed for a (very) brief moment near the beginning of the movie, when we see her from behind putting on an evening gown. One word: YUM.

Back Row Grade: C (but if it had ended five minutes sooner, it might have gotten an A!)






Under the Tuscan Sun
(Reviewed September 11, 2003, by James Dawson)

Calling all brain-dead, deluded spinsters! This movie is for you!

Well, it is rather shamelessly targeted at you, anyhow. But even the most cock-deprived, frustrated, desperately needy Miss Lonelyhearts is likely to retch and run from this cynical slopbucket of sentimental swill.

Diane Lane may be beautiful, and genuinely likeable, and undeniably sexy in this tale of a divorcee who leaves San Francisco for Italy, buys a house, and starts a new life for herself. But this movie is so pandering, so contrived, so insultingly moronic that she almost succeeds in blowing all of the goodwill left over from her great acting job in last year's "Unfaithful."

"Unfaithful" was trash, admittedly. But "Under the Tuscan Sun" is garbage. There IS a difference, people.

First of all: We are expected to believe that, in the ridiculously preposterous universe of "Under the Tuscan Sun," Lane is pressured to sell her house in SF because her philandering husband holds the upper hand in a divorce case. Oh, sure. That happens all the time in California! Hubby's new squeeze likes the SF house, you see, and so Diane can either sell her half or end up paying alimony to her entirely-to-blame-for-the-breakup ex. Ha-ha, is this a screwball comedy in disguise, or what?

Then Lane is presented with a ticket to Italy by a pair of lesbian friends who have just found out "they" are pregnant. (How delightfully PC.) They were supposed to go there themselves, but now don't want to fly, so they upgraded to one first-class ticket and made it a "congrats on your divorce" gift for Ms. L.

Lane has one of those Hallmark moments in Italy when she sees a house for sale there, so she impulsively buys it with most of her savings...but there must be a perpetually in bloom money tree in the backyard, because she pays workmen to make the place into a showplace over the next year, and lives like a retiree with no visible means of support the whole time. Nice work if you can get it!

She meets various sickeningly "colorful" characters and has lots of special house-repair moments and meets a studly Italian who owns a beachside restaurant and then her pregnant lesbian friend appears on her doorstep one day and moves in and...are you buying any of this crap? Believe me, it plays even stupider and less believable on screen.

Lay the blame for all of this squarely at the feet of writer/director Audrey Wells, who (according to the press notes) apparently jettisoned everything but the title from this adaptation of the best-selling novel version of "Under the Tuscan Sun." Readers who enjoyed the story of a woman AND HER HUSBAND who bought and renovated a house in Italy should feel rather shocked and betrayed to see that the movie version is about a divorcee and a circle of ENTIRELY FICTIONAL CHARACTERS that do not appear in the print version. Can you say, "May I please have my money back, you goddamned slimy Hollywood bait-and-switch con artists?"

Also, Diane Lane never gets naked (the closest she comes is one of those "only in the movies" scenes where people get in bed and have sex while keeping their underwear on). That pretty much eliminates any reason whatsoever for any non-pussy-whipped man with even a milligram of testosterone to buy a ticket.

Avoid. Avoid. AVOID!

Back Row Grade: F






Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
(Reviewed by James Dawson)

I wrote this review for the website ARTISTdirect.com, where you can read it by clicking this link:
"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" review


Back Row Grade: B






Unfaithful
(Reviewed May 9, 2002, by James Dawson)

This basically is a softcore melodrama where people have tastefully passionate forbidden liaisons in beautifully interior-decorated environs. There are plot points in it that are wholly unbelievable, but it's not entirely worthless, if you are in the mood for a movie that at least pretends to be about adults.

The main thing it has going for it is Diane Lane, possibly the closest thing Hollywood has to what could be called "a real woman." She is beautiful and sexy, but in a grown-up, non-giggly, not-trying-to-be-a-teenager fashion. Or, in other words, YUM.

Back Row Grade: C






United 93
(Reviewed April 25, 2006, by James Dawson)

The difference between this film and "Flight 93," a sentimentalized A&E cable network movie about the same 9/11 hijacked plane, is striking. "United 93," written and directed by Paul Greengrass, takes a documentary-style, "you are there" approach that is more likely to leave audiences feeling outrage, fury and disgust over that fateful day's events than wanting to reach for the tissue box and have a good cry. That's a compliment, by the way.

Unlike "Flight 93," "United 93" has no cuts to melodramatic scenes of loved ones who were on the other ends of passengers' phone calls. The violence in "United 93" is more shocking and brutal, for all its briefness, than the equivalent scenes in "Flight 93." "United 93" includes many convincingly realistic scenes of the turmoil that took place within the FAA, the airline's control center and the military that morning. And while most of the dialog and events aboard the doomed plane obviously had to be made up in both movies, "United 93" feels much more genuine than its cable counterpart.

A "thank you" to the Department of Defense comes as a surprise in the credits, considering how badly the military comes off in the film. Once it becomes obvious that several planes have been hijacked, urgent attempts to scramble jets to protect New York and Washington are frustrated by the fact that no one can locate the president or vice president to get rules-of-engagement guidelines. (As everyone who saw "Fahrenheit 9/11" knows, George W. Bush was sitting in an elementary school classroom for a photo op at the time -- and was so fucking clueless that he went on sitting there with a stupid look on his face for several minutes after being told the Twin Towers had been attacked. As for Dick Cheney's whereabouts, he probably was sacrificing small children to his sweet lord Satan at an undisclosed location.)

One questionable aspect of the movie is the casting of several real-life people (most notably FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney) and even some military personnel as themselves. This blurring of the lines between reality and fiction feels slightly tacky, especially considering the liberties that Greengrass apparently took with even those portrayals. For example, according to the Los Angeles Times, Sliney was told by Greengrass to lose his temper and swear. In reality, "I didn't shout at anybody that day and get aggravated," the Times quotes Sliney as saying. "Paul wanted me to swear. The first two takes I didn't, and then he pleaded with me to swear." I guess what really happened that day wasn't dramatic enough for Hollywood's taste...

When some of United 93's passengers rise up and rush the hijackers, it's impossible not to feel a kind of cathartic bloodlust. The tragedy is that those passengers' deaths, and the murders of everyone else who died on 9/11, still have not been avenged by an administration more interested in attacking a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 than in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. Now that Bush is down to a 32% approval rating, it looks like we're in for another illegal, meaningless war to get his poll numbers back up among the "gotta unite behind our president" rubes before the November elections. Either that, or we'll suddenly manage to "find" Osama sometime around mid-October.

Let's all hope our War-Criminal-in-Chief chooses Door Number Two by pulling Osama out of a spider hole. It'll cost us a hell of a lot less than nuclear armageddon in taxes.

Back Row Grade: B






Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog)
(Reviewed March 2, 2005, by James Dawson)

Think of this one as "Jet Lilo & Stitch."

Like Disney's "Lilo & Stitch," the plot involves a character bred to be an unstoppable weapon of mass destruction who discovers his soft side when he finds himself living with a loving family. The difference is that this time it is martial arts master Jet Li, and not a little blue cartoon alien, who gets domesticated by the power of love. Also, although parts of "Unleashed" are over-the-top ridiculous, this definitely is not a comedy.

Half of "Unleashed" is a hyper-violent chop-sockey fest that takes place in the mean murder-for-entertainment underworld of Glasgow, Scotland (of all places). The other half is the schmaltzy, twinkly, would-be touching account of how a mentally underdeveloped killing-machine slave adjusts to a sedate life with a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his music-student daughter.

Which means that fans of serious cinematic ass-kicking are going to be bored out of their skulls watching Jet Li learn how to eat soup with a spoon...while anyone who enjoys watching Freeman gently teach Li how to select ripe fruit at the corner market will be appalled by the kicking, punching and general bloodletting parts.

"Unleashed" co-screenwriter Luc Besson somehow made this kind of thing work in his excellent 1994 "Leon the Professional," which he wrote and directed. In that movie, Jean Reno is a coolly detached hitman whose life changes when he becomes the guardian of a young girl. The movie had tension, action and genuine heart.

The problem with "Unleashed," directed by Louis Leterrier, is that the action bits are unbelievably cartoonish. Admittedly, this shortcoming is hard to avoid in punching-and-kicking flicks. There is simply no way that a human body could endure as much abuse as Li and his opponents take without expiring...or at least without a few nasty bruises. Every fight scene here has more in common with an ultra-violent video game than with anything resembling reality. Also, judging by the complete absence of police responding to jewelry-store beatings, murders and home invasions, Glasgow must be a real gangsta's paradise!

Sure, it's neat to see the amazingly intricate choreography of Li fighting off a dozen weapons-wielding attackers in an empty swimming pool. But watching Our Hero get the shit rather energetically kicked out of him for extended periods of time can get depressingly wearing.

Like "Leon," there is a big "everybody go get him" finale that puts Li up against a virtual army of determined attackers -- including a huge bald guy who is damned good at taking repeated blows to the head (what fun!). The way this melee concludes makes no sense whatsoever; it's as if everybody else suddenly catches a bus out of town as soon as Li and crime boss Bob Hoskins go one-on-one.

On the positive side, "Unleashed" has a gritty, UK-bleak "Guy Ritchie" look; a swell soundtrack by Massive Attack; and enough style to give it a veneer of actual class. If it had done a better job of integrating its sappy side with its sockey side, "Unleashed" could have been a real contender.

Back Row Grade: C-






Up in the Air
(Reviewed December 2, 2009, by James Dawson)

George Clooney is perfectly cast as very frequent flyer Ryan Bingham, whose job is delivering bad news at companies where, as he puts it, "the bosses are pussies who don't have the balls to fire their own employees." Yet while he is cheerfully uninterested in long-term commitments that he thinks would weigh him down, Ryan is not at all cynical about his work. He handles each exit interview efficiently but not cruelly, gently easing the about-to-be-unemployed through what he knows may be the worst day of their lives.

Ryan encounters unexpected turbulence when his company announces plans to carry out future terminations via video conference to reduce travel expenses. That's the brilliant idea of newly hired Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a tightly wound know-it-all who manages to be both icy and adorable. When Ryan objects to being grounded by someone with no real-world experience, his boss (Jason Bateman, smarmy as always) tells him to take Natalie along on what might be his final series of flights.

Kendrick is deliciously, ridiculously fun to watch. Strutting with amusing arrogance in take-me-seriously pantsuits and a strictly no-nonsense ponytail, she describes the aggressive way she attacks her laptop keyboard as "typing with purpose." The fact that she so obviously is headed for a change of attitude doesn't make that transformation any less enjoyable. If there's not an award for "funniest public crying jag," there should be.

Previously best known as Bella Swan's high-school friend Jessica in "Twilight" (where she delivered the immortal line "I like this one, it makes my boobs look good" while trying on a prom dress), Kendrick is so good here that you will pray she resists the inevitable siren call of rom-com junk in the future.

Vera Farmiga plays businesswoman and no-strings Clooney hook-up Alex, whose easygoing attitude is baffling to by-the-numbers Natalie. Alex is so like Ryan that he naturally finds her irresistible, making him question his "empty backpack," keep-moving-or-die philosophy of life.

J.K. Simmons is excellent as one of the many people fired during the course of the movie, which couldn't be more timely in light of America's disastrously downsized economy.

Director Jason Reitman, who wrote the screenplay with Sheldon Turner from the novel by Walter Kirn, does a good job of balancing the sweet with the bitter. When Simmons' character worries how his firing will affect his kids, Natalie pipes up with, "Actually, studies have shown that children under moderate trauma have a tendency to apply themselves academically."

A third-act family wedding slows the movie down a little, and Danny McBride's performance as Ryan's soon-to-be brother-in-law is a bit too sitcommish, but the plot recovers nicely at the end.

Highly recommended!

Back Row Grade: A-






The Upside of Anger
(Reviewed February 7, 2005, by James Dawson)

Joan Allen plays the shrill, rich-bitch alcoholic drama-queen mother of four girls who look nothing whatsoever like sisters, all of them coping with "life without father." In other words, this is a cornball, chatty chick-flick about a self-absorbed, mannish bitch and her quartet of one-dimensional airheads. What fun!

Kevin Costner is the dopey ex-baseball pro next door, who slides home into Joan's pants after she tells him her husband has flown off to Sweden with his young secretary. Our nation's dumber critics (paging Peter Travers) are lauding Costner's lazy, offhand performance as something transcendent. Then again, these are the same easily impressed dopes who regard Paul Giamatti as the American Olivier. How the hell do these quote-whore hacks hang onto their jobs for life? File under "the scum always rises to the top."

Each of Joan Allen's movie daughters has her own little "WB-lite" tale of woe. Keri Russell (who has long hair again, but unfortunately not her former funky "Felicity" perm) is a stressed out dance student. Evan Rachel Wood (the blond beanpole from "Thirteen") has the hots for an indifferent fellow high-schooler. Erika Christensen (the busty chick who looks like Julia Stiles' less-full-of-herself cousin) is getting banged by a scruffy, much older moron who looks like a horrifying cross between Stuttering John and Danny Bonaduce (and who is played by the movie's writer/director Mike Binder). Alicia Witt is daughter number four, who is preggers and engaged.

There's not much plot beyond "How long will Joan go on being a shrew?" If that's your idea of entertainment, go forth and enjoy.

Be warned, however, that this movie has the stupidest, most insultingly moronic "twist" ending I've seen in years. It literally makes no goddamned sense whatsoever. It completely falls apart with even the teensiest bit of thinking. When I saw "Upside of Anger," members of the audience literally groaned and began whispering in derogatory amusement amongst themselves when this pathetic development was revealed. Or maybe that was just me, chatting with the demons in my head.

I would dearly love to ruin this most "anti" of climaxes for you, but I'm not that big a bastard. Hard to believe, huh?

Back Row Grade: F






Uptown Girls
(Reviewed November 25, 2003, by James Dawson)

Man, it's going to be damned hard to pick a worst movie of the year when this December 31 rolls around. The competition already was tough enough, with cellar-dwelling swill such as the abysmally awful "Alex & Emma," the absolutely appalling "American Wedding," the haplessly horrible "Hollywood Homicide," the achingly unfunny "Anger Management," the misbegotten minstrel-show "Bringing Down the House," the gorge-risingly egregious "A Guy Thing," the krappy junk "Kangaroo Jack," the should-have-been aborted "Life of David Gale" and the pathetically preposterous "People I Know."

And now comes the infuriatingly, relentlessly moronic "Uptown Girls," a movie so bad on so many levels that one can only stare in stunned disbelief at its utter worthlessness. You think you've seen bad? You think you know how boring, stupid, soulless and intelligence-insulting a flick can be? Ha!

Brittany Murphy plays a rich 20-something New York party-girl ditz who acts so flighty, brainless and semi-retarded she makes Kate Hudson seem bright. When all of the dough that her deceased parents left her vanishes, she is left with no means of support and finds herself homeless, because the scriptwriters did not bother imagining that even orphans might have other family members. And since she is playing one of those skin-crawlingly annoying wide-eyed blithering idiots that we are supposed to find charming, she naturally cannot hold down even the simplest retail job without kooking things up. Ha-ha, look, she's caught curled up asleep on one of the beds in the linen department during business hours because she was out late the night before! Somebody hand me some paper towels, I think I just wet myself!

We are expected to believe that this unamusingly irresponsible fool is next hired as a nanny for another hoary Hollywood cliche, the amazingly mature wisecracking eight-year-old who needs to find out what fun is. Dakota Fanning is this angry, anal-retentive little angel, and don'tcha just know that somehow, by the movie's end, she and Brittany will learn a little something from each other about life and love and OH GOD, SOMEBODY GET ME A BUCKET, I'M GOING TO THROW UP AGAIN! SWEET HOLY JESUS, I CAN'T STAND EVEN THINKING ABOUT THIS MOVIE FOR ANOTHER SECOND! IT'S FUCKING TERRIBLE, MORE TERRIBLE THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY COMPREHEND! STAY AWAY! STAY FAR, FAR AWAY!

Back Row Grade: F-minus, minus, minus (to infinity)






U.S. vs. John Lennon
(Reviewed August 10, 2006, by James Dawson)

When I was in seventh grade, a classmate scribbled this in my yearbook: "To a guy who loves the Beatles. I hope you become one someday." I remember thinking that was a strange thing for someone to write, but I appreciated the sentiment.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that the info and most of the clips in this new documentary already were pleasantly familiar to me, as a nearly lifelong Beatlemaniac. But I have no idea how the movie will be regarded by anyone who isn't predisposed to enjoy all things "fab."

With any luck, though, even whippersnappers who put John/Paul/George/Ringo in the same couldn't-care-less musical category as Rudy Vallee will appreciate the everything-old-is-new-again politics of the piece. Pointless quagmire war? Check. War-criminal president? Check. Possibility of impeachment? Within a year, if there's any justice in the world.

Despite the court-case title, most of the movie is not about Lennon's and wife Yoko Ono's legal struggle to remain in America after the Nixon administration took a dislike to John's anti-war, pro-Black Panther, Abbie-Hoffman-and-Jerry-Rubin-friendly activism. More than half of the movie is about John and Yoko's post-marriage political awakening, and their performance-art style protests for peace (which included spending a week in bed and inviting the press to document the event).

There are talking-head recent interviews with '60s and '70s figures ranging from Angela Davis to Tom Smothers to G. Gordon Liddy, a smattering of biography, and not much focus on the Beatles (aside from snatches of the group performing "All You Need Is Love" and "Revolution"). Although the movie mainly covers the years 1970-75, there is no reference to John's 18-month "long weekend" separation from Yoko that occurred during that time.

This means there also is no mention of John's lover during that not-insignificant period, May Pang, who had served as the Lennons' assistant at their Dakota Building home in New York. That's too bad, because Pang is the "anti-Yoko" in many ways: likeable, articulate, funny and interesting.

Ono always has been a polarizing figure among Beatles fans. Count me among those who considered John & Yoko's relationship to be a disturbingly creepy example of one-sided codependency. Incredibly, John apparently was the emotionally needy half of the couple, with an unfathomable mommy fixation for someone who retains a ridiculously overinflated opinion of her own "artistry." To each his own, right?

Perhaps Yoko's involvement in the movie explains not only Pang's absence, but also the general sense that the movie was made by fans instead of by objective biographers. A small example: Yoko implies that it was a happy coincidence that son Sean Lennon was born on John's birthday. But longtime Lennon assistant Frederic Seaman has said (as transcribed in "The Lost Beatles Interviews") that "Yoko deliberately gave birth to Sean by cesarean section on October ninth...because she believed that way when John died Sean would inherit his soul." Which certainly puts a creepier spin on the blessed event.

A more significant example: The movie paints John & Yoko as daring rebels and saints for espousing peace by doing such things as paying for "War Is Over" billboards and recording "Give Peace a Chance." But when something important actually was at stake for the Lennons -- namely, losing their right to continue living in America -- they clammed up exactly the way Nixon and his thugs wanted them to do. The movie mentions that activists wanted John to perform in an anti-war concert that would run concurrently with the 1972 Republican convention in Miami, but that Lennon opted out because of his ongoing case and fears for his safety. What the movie doesn't say is anything like, "Gee, way to stand up and stick it to the man when it matters, Mr. Power-to-the-People!"

Admitting that Lennon's feet at least partially were made of clay would have resulted in a more human portrait of the man.

There is no interview footage of John's bandmates, Beatle or otherwise. Although we hear Lennon solo songs on the soundtrack, anyone who doesn't know their release dates would think that Lennon had stopped making new music when he moved to NYC, because we don't see a single album cover or promotional campaign. Anyone unfamiliar with Lennon's post-Beatles career who sees this movie might think the only song he recorded after the break-up was "Give Peace a Chance" in a Montreal hotel room.

We hear nothing from longtime producer Phil Spector, and we hear nothing about him. Lennon's "Live Peace in Toronto" concert, his first non-Beatles live performance, is not mentioned. Lennon songs are scattered on the soundtrack with no context and in nothing resembling chronological order. ("Cold Turkey," released in 1969, plays over years-later footage of New York.)

The movie's production values are pretty good. There's a lot of the "multi-plane" treatment on still photos, making old pictures look 3-D by lifting elements to the foreground, which keeps things from looking too Ken-Burns dull.

The subject matter should have been a lot more comprehensive, though, and much more compelling. The main problem is that nobody acknowledges the element of tragedy in Lennon's story. I'm not talking about the fact that he was shot by a psycho for nothing in 1980, which counts more as senseless idiocy. I wanted at least one person to lament the fact that John's immigration victory ended up being pretty damned hollow.

He may have won the right to stay in America, but the scared, self-muzzled Mr. Mom homebody he became for the last five years of his life was no longer anything resembling a revolutionary.

That was the tragedy.

Back Row Grade: C+
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