Backstory. Movies Reviewed: Bones Brigade An Autobiography, A Late Quartet PLUS Monsters and Martians

Posted in 1980s, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Monsters, Movies, Music, Uncategorized by on December 1, 2012

Bones_Brigade_An_Autobiography_1.470x264Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.


You probably hear the term “backstory” a lot when people are talking about books or movies. A backstory is the background, the things that happen before the main story begins. It’s usually not the main part of the story, but more likely one of the crucial elements that fuel a plot. It also makes you think about the choices we make in our lives and the effects it leads to later on.

So this week I’m talking about two movies that deal explicitly with their backstory. They’re both American movies – one’s a documentary about a some guys who find themselves becoming professional athletes at a very young age, the other one’s a light drama about four professional musicians who find themselves linked, potentially for the rest of their lives.

Bones-Brigade-posterBones Brigade: an Autobiography

Dir: Stacy Peralta

First the backstory: Dog Town and Z-Boys was a fantastic documentary about kids who elevated skateboards to the level of coolness their older brothers had reached with their surfboards. They took over the empty swimming pools in Southern California to skate in, and it was all captured on film by Stacy Peralta.

In this new movie, Peralta continues the story from the early 80s by following one group or team, the Bones Brigade, as skating shifted from being an underground phenomenon to a huge international business.

The Bones Brigade was a group of skaters notable for their youth – some started as pre-teens — their skill, and their unusual lack of drugginess. Some of them would just hang out and eventually become part of the group, while others were nurtured or sought out in remote parts of the country as the next big thing. And they started to win competitions, which led to sponsorship… which led to sales and labels and fame and international renown, until they became superstars, almost (it seems) by accident.

Crucially, they recorded everything they did (on videotape, film and stills) which made its way to skate videos, magazines and print ads. They bucked the trend of selling products and glamourizing skate stars in their ads. Instead, they marketed its cachet and uniqueness with weird random images — like bizarre, staged fires and explosions — without ever emphasizing the skateboards themselves, just the mindset. They wavered from bones-brigade-bros-2010-330x340supremely goofy dorkiness to unreachable levels of casual hipness, without ever defining which they end of the scale they fell on. Sort of a Mickey Mouse Club for skaters. But they were just unknown teenagers who were good with the board.

It traces the story of the six guys — in detail – who turn legends as they invent new moves (like the ollie) and styles that become the standard of competitive meets. Peralta also talks to their former rivals, and the contemporary artists and musicians who helped fuel the phenomenon. It’s an “autobiography” because it combines period footage with the same six people two decades later who tell what happened to them over two decades.

Bones Brigade is long and detailed, but of great interest and historical value and fun to watch. I thought it concentrated a bit too much on the less interesting aspects – sales, ownership, advertising, corporate infighting – and, (at least in the version I saw at hotdocs early this year) it had lost some of the free feelings that Dogtown and Z-Boys inspired. It’s also a lot longer than most big screen documentaries – it felt more like a two-part TV doc. Even so, it’s the definitive history of skating in the 80s and 90s.

ALateQuartet_Poster_smA Late Quartet

Dir: Yaron Zilberman

Backstory: a famous cellist pulls together three young musicians – one directly out of music school – to form a string quartet that lead to great success.

The Fugue Quartet is getting together again for a triumphant 25th annual tour. The lead violinist, Daniel (Mark Ivanir), is a moody and intense perfectionist, who writes detailed notes on his score and follows them to a T. Robert (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a petulant and sulky second violinist – he wants to be free and chafes under Daniel’s demands; Juliette is the violist (the marvelous Katherine Keener) — the stable core. And Peter the Cellist (Christopher Walken) is the founder and eminence gris. They function as a perfectly-tuned contraption, beloved around the world.

But, out of the blue, the cellist discovers his hands aren’t functioning quite right. Peter is messing up. So, as he seeks a medical explanation he puts the quartet on hold… temporarily. That’s when things start falling apart. Robert who goes jogging around Central Park with a much younger Spanish musician (Liraz Charhi) loves her praise, Last Quartet Mark Ivanir Philip Seymour Hoffman_ Catherine Keener_ Christopher Walken Photo courtesy of Opening Night Productionsbut takes her off-hand comments too sriously – she wonders why he’s not the first violin. Suddenly he decides he’s tired of being second fiddle and wants to share the lead part. (What?!)

Meanwhile, his marriage – with Juliette – falters. And Alexandra (Imogen Poots), has personal ties to all four members: Peter teaches her class at music school, Daniel is her coach, and Robert and Juliette her parents. As the ultimate wildcard she further disrupts the quartet’s equilibrium with a shocking revelation.

Soon everything just falls apart like a house of cards.

Will they ever play together again? Will Juliette and Robert get back together? Can they work with Daniel? Will Peter recover or can he be replaced if he doesn’t? And will they still exist as a group?

A classical musician told me the rivalry between 1st and 2nd violin was ridiculous and clichéd, that actors don’t understand musical instruments. All true I’m sure, but I’m a movie critic, not a musician. I thought it was a good, low-key drama about music and relationships and the first feature film by a documentary director. Good acting – all four of them, with nice plot, fun characters, nice soundtrack. I enjoyed it.

the_call_of_cthulhu_dvd_coverBones Brigade: an Autobiography and a Late Quartet both open today. Coming next week is the first annual Monsters & Martians International Film Festival in Toronto which will be showing wacky and weird science fiction flics, involving Chinese speaking space aliens in Rome; a new film by Kevin Smith; and evidence that Cthulhu is replacing werewolves, vampires and Zombies as the hottest monster.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, .

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