WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
It looks as though the gang over at the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts and Sciences decided to piss off a whole lot of people this year by snubbing a movie which many people considered to be a unanimous Best Picture choice. Anybody else hungry for some CHOCOLAT? I’ll shamefully admit that I had missed Almost Famous during its initial theatrical run and was eager to see what the fuss was all about. The DVD, much like the Oscars, has received its own fair share of controversy, featuring only a handful of quick extras but great A/V.
A young boy’s (Patrick Fugit) passion for music and writing lands him a gig at a small rock magazine. Despite his age, he eventually catches the eyes of the editors of Rolling Stone who ask him to follow around an up-and-coming rock band for a feature article on their path to stardom. The movie tells the story of his journey into maturity, adulthood and love as he follows the band across the country.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Oscar snubs aside, this is a clear candidate for one of the best films of the year. I’ll take my hat off to director Cameron Crowe for bringing his early adolescence to the big screen (the movie is based on events that really happened to him), while still being able to maintain a feeling of sincerity and innocence. With this film, he has candidly recounted the moments which shaped his life and admirably revealed many of his most personal memories. In fact, the story is filled with many wonderfully written moments which ooze emotion and feeling as we watch a young Crowe live out his dreams and fantasies. Young Patrick Fugit, a newcomer to the film scene, radiates charm and has all the poise of a seasoned Hollywood veteran. While somewhat overlooked by many, Billy Crudup and Jason Lee did fantastic jobs as everyday musicians adjusting to their new found success as well. And even though he only has a handful of minutes on screen, Philip Seymour Hoffman was also terrific as Crowe’s jaded mentor. The man is simply rock solid in every role he takes.
The movie’s real strength hinges on its use of some absolutely incredible music. The soundtrack periodically drifts in and out, flooding scenes with heartfelt emotion and feeling. Many of the movie’s best moments are marked by a silence accompanied by several moving rock classics. (ie: Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel, etc). Crowe knows that something special was going on in the 70’s and he takes every opportunity to show his love for the period. Through this movie and his last few films, he’s quietly building a reputation as one of the industry’s most passionate and talented directors. Almost Famous presents the proverbial "coming of age" story but manages to succeed without being cheesy or melodramatic. Instead, it’s filled with honest moments of love and frustration as we watch a young man slowly come to terms with his youth. A great little movie which in a year tainted by mediocrity, stands out from the crowd.
Kicking off the bonuses is a very solid 25 minute HBO "First Look" which takes the time to provide interviews with not only cast and crew but also some of the real people who were featured in the movie. Director Crowe really opens up about what drove him to complete the movie and by watching him on set, you can tell he loved every minute of sitting behind the camera. A cool little piece within the featurette also showed how the actors who formed the band in the flick were trained to act like real rock stars by none other than Peter Frampton! Definitely worth a look. Next up is the music video for Stillwater’s "Fever Dog" which basically splices concert footage with scenes from the movie. It’s pretty ho-hum stuff and features stuff we’ve already seen.
My favorite extra on the DVD is the decision to include the original articles (7) from Rolling Stone by Cameron Crowe on such rock heavyweights as Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers and Neil Young. While going through them, I couldn’t get over the fact that they were written by such a young writer as the articles were absolutely stellar. Finishing up the extras are the original theatrical trailer as well as some brief production notes. The DVD features some very nice menus, complete with full animation and tracks from the movie. My only beef is that the opening menu takes just a little too long to get to, that is the animation runs a little too long.
At the beginning of the review I mentioned that the DVD release of Almost Famous was tangled up in its own controversy, so allow me to fill you in. Crowe originally intended to release a different cut of the movie in theatres but Dreamworks decided to trim the flick down by some 30-40 minutes. Plans for the DVD release had originally included a director’s cut with restored footage but because of production problems, things fell through and they decided to go with a bare bones, standard edition. The director’s cut should eventually see the light of day sometime by late summer/fall 2001. So what’s my take on the situation? I’d humbly suggest renting this wonderful movie and finding the willpower to wait a few more months for the second version. I personally can’t wait to see what was left on the cutting room floor.