SHINE A LIGHT
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+
directed by Martin Scorsese
HANNAH MONTANA/MILEY CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT TOUR
½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C
directed by Bruce Hendricks
by Bill Chambers Film critic and snarkmeister extraordinaire Glenn Kenny recently blogged, "When Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light hit theaters in April, it gave movie critics, myself included, a chance...to weigh in on just what they thought of [the Rolling Stones]. It sure was fun, kinda, but rather missed a point, which is that having an opinion on The Stones these days is like having an opinion about Mount Rushmore. No one really gives a shit." While I'm inclined to agree, does that not make a concert from "The Stones these days" tantamount to a sightseeing tour of Mt. Rushmore? What, then, does Shine a Light leave us to talk about? Sadly, not a lot.
It's unfortunate that the unfairest criticism one can level at Shine a Light is arguably the most legitimate as well: it's no Gimme Shelter. When Scorsese accepted the challenge of sequelizing The Hustler, it showed hubris--this is just plain self-destructive. Understand, though, it's not that Scorsese isn't up to the task (his The Last Waltz is epochal in its own right), but that The Stones aren't. You get the sense that Shine a Light--which reunites Scorsese with The Last Waltz's Ron Wood--wants to be the Easter Sunday to Gimme Shelter's Good Friday, yet in treating the two films like before-and-after snapshots, the tragedy of Gimme Shelter is not the stabbing of a concertgoer by one of the Hell's Angels hired to work security so much as the fact that this event did not bring about the dissolution of The Rolling Stones. They were handed an opportunity to become James Dean and instead chose to become The Simpsons.
Any hopes that Scorsese, an artist who--unlike Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, et al--has defied convention by doing some of his most inspired work (The Aviator, No Direction Home, The Departed) well into his sixties, would reinvigorate his frequent muses are quickly dashed by a navel-gazing prologue in which the band comes across as both implacable and lethargic. They're fogies (albeit weird, androgynous fogies), and while the corporeal presence of Scorsese in this sequence reimburses some of the cool he's borrowed from the band's discography over the years1, it's also a peculiarly narcissistic gesture that, taken with a bizarre denouement where the director hustles us out of the auditorium in a meaningless P.O.V. shot, positions Scorsese as host in the vein of Walt Disney or Alfred Hitchcock. Ironically but perhaps intentionally, this decreases the stakes for him: Because the practice is so rarely seen outside of television, whenever a filmmaker assumes the role of de facto narrator like this and adopts an avuncular persona to go with it, it generally warns the viewer of a corresponding lowering of aesthetic standards. Sure enough...
I think it was a mistake to sprinkle Shine a Light with guest stars, as this makes comparisons to Gimme Shelter that much less avoidable. (Somehow I doubt the supremely tacky Christina Aguilera is what Jagger had in mind when he said "It's nice to have a chick occasionally" while watching footage of Tina Turner unspool in Gimme Shelter.) And I think it was a mistake to exhibit the HD production in IMAX, as this makes comparisons to Julien Temple's At the Max similarly unavoidable.2 Moreover, the modest venue--small in scale, small in context (a birthday bash for Bill Clinton3)--doesn't really lend itself to the large format the way the colossal arenas of At the Max did. In the grand tradition of IMAX entertainments past, At the Max revels in negative space, the better to contemplate The Stones' relativity to the universe they've cultivated; hemmed in by logistics and circumstance, Scorsese gets too close with a magnifying glass in Shine a Light, finally catching the emperors without their clothes. It's a depressing film for that reason and not for any of the attempts at elegy--when Scorsese cuts away, 49 Up-like, from this Country Bear Jamboree to prophetic interviews with the young Mick Jagger (who sees being Mick Jagger as a lifelong vocation), it plays not as Darwinian triumph but as joyless purgatory. The only thing special about The Rolling Stones is who they used to be.
Still, owing to the durability of The Stones' greatest hits and flashes of Scorsese's visual acumen, Shine a Light is pretty painless to sit through. I mean, it has a soul. Would that I could say the same for Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour (hereafter Best of Both Worlds), a film that opens with celebuspawn Cyrus practising scales and ends with me wrapping my lips around the barrel of a twelve-gauge. Since there's no earthly reason anyone reading FILM FREAK CENTRAL would know the picture's backstory, Hannah Montana is the alter ego of Miley Stewart, both of whom are played by Cyrus on "Hannah Montana", a Disney Channel sitcom about a typical all-American teenage girl who leads a double life as a pop superstar. (In true Clark Kent/Superman fashion, once Stewart dons the blonde wig of Hannah Montana nobody recognizes her.) Cyrus's real-life father, Billy Ray Cyrus (a truly terrible actor), co-stars as Stewart's father/pimp Robbie; if nothing else, take comfort in the fact that the show, however stultifying, is a sort of training bra for the pomo head games of Charlie Kaufman. But there's something about putting "Hannah Montana" on a bill with Miley Cyrus that creates a paradox I'm not entirely comfortable with, like when Mork met Robin Williams. You may ask yourself, who is the host in this scenario--and who is the parasite?
"Hannah Montana" could be generously called a comment on the music industry's tradition of prefabricating teen idols, although from the episodes I sampled for this review (including the pilot, wherein Miley reveals her secret identity to her best friend, a Hannah Montana fan), the main character's alias and disguise are a function of compartmentalizing her fame as opposed to a record-company contrivance. Nevertheless, there is a sense--borne out by the bait-and-switch tactic of this spin-off movie--that the Hannah Montana persona is just a sugar-coating to render a thoroughly unremarkable talent more palatable to superficial tweens. I'm fascinated by the idea that, because Cyrus honed her performing style through the character of Hannah Montana, Hannah Montana may indeed represent the "real" Miley Cyrus, making Cyrus's "solo" career every bit the entitled put-on it appears to be. At the very least, Cyrus is so beholden to her squeaky-clean image (witness her lack of accountability over the VANITY FAIR shoot during "Back-gate," or her recently-announced plans to hold her Sweet 16 at Disneyland4) that she's as much a corporate mascot as Hannah Montana5. And it's Cyrus, rather than "Hannah," who comes off as inauthentic in Best of Both Worlds, mainly due to interstitial segments that find Cyrus slumped over like a marionette without a puppeteer while various handlers praise her rudimentary skills. The only time she seems vaguely human is when a cue goes awry and her backup dancers accidentally(-on-purpose?) drop her, but even then, Cyrus's fear of falling again the following evening is mostly communicated to us via her choreographer, the ubiquitous Kenny Ortega. Everything with this girl is a fucking press release.
The first 3-D theatrical feature to have its third dimension preserved on Blu-ray, Best of Both Worlds was a title I eagerly anticipated for that reason. But though the increased resolution of HiDef makes this the most effective 3-D experience I've ever had at home, the novelty of not-bad stereoscopy on the small screen quickly evaporates in a sickly headache induced by the anaglyph (read: red/blue) process. Two subsequent, consecutive viewings (once in 2-D) with my niece and nephew damn near did me in--despite a general air of professionalism, there's simply nothing for a cinephile or music lover to latch onto. I do feel a little guilty for cutting into my seven-year-old niece's enjoyment of the film--she's bought the whole phenomenon hook, line, and sinker--with relentless heckling (in my defense, I was trying to keep my nephew from climbing the walls; he especially enjoyed "Back to the bowels of Hell with you, Cyrus the Virus!" as Miley was lowered out of sight at the end of the concert), but I feel far worse for gazing into those baby blues and pouring her a glass of the proverbial Kool-Aid myself.
THE BLU-RAY DISCS
Paramount shepherds Shine a Light to Blu-ray in a very appealing 1.78:1, 1080p transfer that replicates the clarity if not the awesomeness of the film's IMAX blow-up. Shot largely in 16mm black-and-white, the prologue actually looks better here than it did in theatres, equally grainy but significantly sharper. (Ditto the archival footage.) A trio of soundtrack options offers remarkably different listening experiences, but caveat emptor that my receiver downmixed all three of them to their non-hi-res core. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is no match for the DTS track even after level-matching: as with the recent BD release of Top Gun, it just doesn't have the thunder. I will say that the music sounds a tad "bright" in DTS, however, and for that reason I ultimately preferred the PCM 2.0 stereo alternative. Your mileage may vary depending on how integral you-are-there rear-channel atmospherics are to your enjoyment of a "live" event. The platter is light on bonus material but worth a gander: in addition to the four bonus songs ("Undercover of the Night," "Paint It Black" (my favourite performance on the disc), "Little T&A," and "I'm Free"), each of which is presented in 1080p with the same multitude of audio configurations as the movie proper, there's a so-called "supplemental featurette" that plays like a deleted sequence. A montage of rehearsal footage and other pre-show bits of business (The Stones fraternizing with the Secret Service, Buddy Guy explaining his "Motherfucker" moniker), it comes perilously close in an impromptu unplugged rendition of "Wild Horses" with Mick on harmonica to capturing the melancholy of The Last Waltz's ghostly closing lullaby.
Disney's Blu-ray release of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour includes four pairs of 3-D glasses and a 2-D viewing mode should migraines not appeal to you. For what it's worth, my niece--a normal-size girl-type child--hated the 3-D glasses, believing them to be too big. My nephew, on the other hand, loved them because it gave him something to bludgeon his sister with, and he missed the 3-D when we switched to 2-D because the in-your-face effects (my personal fave is the possibly-CG guitar pick tossed at us at the 24:26 mark) were all that was holding his interest. No matter how you slice it, the 1.85:1, 1080p presentation has an inorganic, HiDef sheen that suits the material to a T; only in a handful of dodgy backstage segments that were obviously shot with consumer-grade equipment does the video quality dip below hollow perfection. Squeezed through my 5.1 receiver, the accompanying 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is quite persuasive in bringing the concert experience home but nevertheless suffers from a certain shrillness that remains prevalent in the switch to PCM stereo. Extras are blessedly slim: you get two aptly-titled bonus songs in 1080p and DD 5.1 ("S.O.S." by The Jonas Brothers and "Good and Broken" by Cyrus); a sing-along subtitle track (2-D version only); and the Backstage Disney featurette "The Ultimate Personal Tour" (11 mins., 16x9/480i), in which Cyrus nurtures a split-personality disorder by referring to "Hannah/Miley" the way Marilyn Monroe might invoke "Norma Jean and Marilyn," demonstrates her Tourette's-like compulsion to flash the peace sign, and admits what anyone watching the film could infer, i.e. that she's musically illiterate. HD "sneak peeks" for The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tinker Bell, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Disney Parks, On Blu-ray Disc, Sleeping Beauty, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, WALL·E, and Disney Movie Rewards round out the disc, those last five cuing up on startup. Originally published: August 28, 2008.
1. I know the mystique of Mt. Rushmore would be instantly renewed for me were Sarah Vowell to go there on one of her Americana expeditions. return
2. Is it a testament to their longevity or evidence of some infernal loop that The Rolling Stones now have two fucking IMAX movies to their credit? return
3. Hence the self-censoring of the line about the Kennedy assassinations in "Sympathy for the Devil." return
4. Attend the party as if the two of you are BFFs for the low low price of $250. return
5. I'm cannibalizing my review of From Justin to Kelly here, but I found Cyrus's recent revelation that she dated fellow Mouse House detainee Nick Jonas profoundly disturbing. They're essentially siblings--offspring of the same publicity machinery. return