Talking Movies

July 18, 2014

SuperMensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

Mike Myers makes an unexpected directorial debut with an affectionate documentary about the life of Alice Cooper’s manager Shep Gordon.


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Shep Gordon moved coasts in the late 1960s to idealistically reform young offenders as a parole officer in California. That didn’t go so well. So instead he became one of them; selling drugs to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and managing Alice Cooper as a front for his sizeable cash-flow. And then he started to care… And, as Michael Douglas would say, he’s never stopped caring since. Gordon cleverly connived Cooper to chart success, did the same for soul singer Teddy Pendergrass, and then as a challenge took on management of wholesome Canadian folk singer Anne Murray to prove he didn’t need sex or violence to make his acts successful. And that’s just the 1970s, in the 1980s and 1990s Gordon branched out in all-new directions; and somehow ended up cooking yak tea for the Dalai Lama in Maui. Yeah!

Myers, as you might expect, intersperses footage of talking heads with dramatic re-enactments played out to maximise the comedy of certain situations. But really when the talking heads include the dry wit of Michael Douglas, the explosive profanity of Tom Arnold, and the riotous anecdotes of Gordon himself, re-enactments are only an icing on the comedic cake. This is a very entertaining documentary because what Gordon got up to is so outrageous, and clever. Cooper’s music wasn’t up to much, but his stage presence was – so Gordon built an audience thru theatre before bothering with trying to make a hit record. And he built the audience thru skilful manipulations of situations (a live chicken, a stalled van, outré LP packaging) to give Cooper a youth audience by making him a bogey of authority figures – even as he exploited those authorities.

What’s most interesting about SuperMensch as a documentary is its unexpected layer of sadness. Sam Waterston’s mensch in Crimes and Misdemeanours is subjected to Job-like misfortune, and Gordon seems to follow that ironic pattern. His black girlfriend of the 1970s leaves him; taking her daughter that he’d treated as his own; and later Gordon looks after the daughter’s children following tragedy as their surrogate Jewish grandfather; while remaining tragically single. He creates the concept of celebrity chef out of friendship with the inventor of nouveau cuisine, because he believes the revered chef is not earning an amount of money commensurate to his talent. He is all things to all clients. But when Gordon has life-threatening surgery with low chances of survival the only person by his bedside when he wakes up is his PA, who is tearful about his isolation.

SuperMensch at times could use a bit more detail on how precisely Gordon moved from field to field within talent management, but overall it’s both an unexpectedly thoughtful and deliriously entertaining debut from Myers.

3.5/5

October 12, 2012

Hit and Run

Punk’d provocateur Dax Shepard co-directs and also co-writes and stars in a hybrid of action and rom-com as a goodhearted ex-con who riskily drives girlfriend Kristen Bell to Los Angeles.

Annie (Bell) is a teacher in a terrible community college issued with an ultimatum by her boss (Kristen Chenoweth) – do a job interview in L.A. for the chance to create a course based on her unique approach to conflict resolution or lose her job. Annie decides to go, but it involves a parting of the ways with her boyfriend Charlie (Shepard), who is in witness protection after testifying against some L.A. bank-robbers and can’t go back there without endangering himself and Annie too. So of course he goes. Much to the chagrin of his case marshal (Tom Arnold), Annie’s controlling ex-boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum), and, eventually and inevitably, the gang he testified against (Bradley Cooper, Ryan Hansen and Joy Bryant). But will Annie be able to forgive Charlie for the awful secret he has kept from her about his past life?

Some films possess a mysterious quality that makes you want to like them, and this is one of them. You are rooting for this film to work, and it so nearly takes flight that you end up feeling bad at its consistent failure to soar. Tom Arnold blusters for all he’s worth as a hopelessly inept federal marshal but while his slapstick scenes of vehicular mayhem have all the necessary elements they never catch full comedic fire. The cast is ultimately the best thing about this movie. Smallville fans will enjoy seeing Lex Luthor sporting hair but still acting like an entitled bully, while Veronica Mars fans will enjoy seeing Bell and her old 09er nemesis Hansen clash. Bell will never find as a good a role as Veronica but she carries this movie effectively with her real-life boyfriend Shepard.

The car-chases are the selling points of this movie but these are car-chases shot on a shoe-string budget with hand-held cameras, and while the three chases are good they’re not brilliant. Indeed nearly everything is good but not brilliant. Bradley Cooper has a standout scene with an irresponsible dog-owner that is memorable but quite questionable. Definitively not good are the endless complaining and explaining conversations between Annie and Charlie. These are meant to create a crossover hit by appealing to women, but they’re inferior to the very similar emotional confrontations that punctuate the gory carnage on Supernatural, and they make it increasingly difficult to care about annoying Annie. Indeed the funniest moment comes at the end of the film when her character is undercut with an absurdist cameo by Sean Hayes from Will & Grace.

It’s hard to dismiss a film so many talented actors volunteered to work for scale on but Shepard’s script has noble intentions yet just can’t achieve its own ambitions.

2/5

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