Becoming Nobody **1/2
Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland: Double Tap
Director Jamie Catto clearly considers himself a student of spiritual teacher Ram Dass, a point of view generating a documentary that’s unusual both for the better and for the worse. There’s no attempt at cradle-to-grave narrative exploring how the American-born psychologist (né Richard Alpert) graduated from psychedelic experimentation with Timothy Leary to learning at the feet of Neem Karoli Baba in India. Instead, this is a film dedicated almost entirely to Ram Dass’ teachings in his own words—mostly archival, though there is footage of Catto interviewing him in his Maui home, now 88 years old and wheelchair-bound. Fortunately, Ram Dass is a lively, engaging speaker, his wisdom about abandoning ego leavened with humor that’s often self-deprecating; it’s kind of reassuring when a guru lets you know he spent part of a silent meditative retreat on a multi-hour sex fantasy. That doesn’t leave much from a visual standpoint, as the lessons are generally illustrated with what amounts to overly-literal stock footage whenever we’re not watching the man himself speak. If Catto’s purpose was making me want to listen to more of Ram Dass’ words—and just listen—then mission accomplished. Opens Oct. 18 at Broadway Centre Cinemas.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil **1/2
See feature review
. Opens Oct. 18 at theaters valleywide.
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool ***
“Great artist” documentaries are generally thorough and respectful, rising above the din strictly by how much “well, I never knew that” they deliver. Director Stanley Nelson goes cradle-to-grave on the legendary jazz musician, chronicling his precocious talents from East St. Louis to Juilliard, and laying out a career full of innovations and re-inventions. In fact, the film’s subtitle seems a bit misleading, in that Nelson underplays Davis’ “cool” in favor of his uniquely instinctual approach to creating music and re-creating himself. Along the way, we get all of the key life mileposts, with no attempt to hide Davis’ well-documented history of substance abuse and domestic violence. Cal Lumbly narrates Davis’ own words from his autobiography with a perfect impersonation of the musician’s sassy rasp, adding additional character to the talking-head commentary by friends and collaborators. You still get stuff like the rapid-fire “highlights of the year” montages that accompany shifts in time period, and the inevitable challenge of having people explain why a groundbreaking artist was so unique. There’s great music, some interesting insights and a filmmaker who mostly gets out of the way of his subject. Opens Oct. 18 at Broadway Centre Cinemas.
Zombieland: Double Tap **
Another one of this week’s unnecessary sequels, it’s a hit-or-miss follow-up to the perfectly good 2009 comedy that brings back the original cast of post-zombie-apocalypse survivors—Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin—and has them cross paths with others (including Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Harrelson and Eisenberg analogues, to amusing effect) on their way to a rumored safe haven. Too much of the bantering and bickering has a sitcom vibe to it, Harrelson’s tantrums about having to drive a minivan being the worst; I had Tim Allen flashbacks, which is not good. But Zoey Deutch is a hilarious scene-stealer as an airhead they find hiding in a mall who complicates Eisenberg and Stone’s relationship—which is a great and necessary addition, because so much of the movie otherwise is just a rehash of the jokes and themes from the first one. As is the case with zombies, two shots of this should be more than enough to kill it for good. Opens Oct. 18 at theaters valleywide.
(R)—Eric D. Snider