In 10 Words or Less
A tribute to the rock-star life of art and excess
Loves: The Beatles, Interesting visuals
Likes: Films about music
Dislikes: Cliched stories about artists
How do you make a movie about John Lennon that's not about John Lennon? Step one would be to change his name to John Livien. *Check* Then, get rid of The Beatles, the fantastic music, the interesting personality, and just about everything else people remember about Lennon. *Check* Now, take Livien, portray him as a pretentious, mentally-disturbed artist and show how he pisses off his bandmates and generally acts like a jerk. *Check*
I may be simplifying matters a bit, but that's generally the story here with this film. I say generally, because I had quite a bit of difficulty following what was going on. That is, if anything was going on. Most of the time it felt like I was flipping back and forth between two different channels, one with a concert by Livien, the other showing his "Behind the Music" episode. Unfortunately, neither made me want to stick around.
Livien (Jason Behr, "Roswell") is either truly the reincarnated Lennon, believes he is, or is playing the part... I can't say for sure. He certainly dives right into the role, dressing and sounding like the Liverpool legend, and even introducing a Yoko-like influence to the band, which includes "Lost"'s Dominic Monaghan and The Blair Witch Project's Joshua Leonard, and is managed by Ally Sheedy's Brea character. Nobody stands out with a great performance, nor does anyone fail in their spots, though why they needed a talent like Sheedy to play her part isn't quite clear.
The film follows the band as they chase fame and as Livien slips further and further away from reality. He's got a seriously messed-up background that reveals itself in bits and pieces, but by the time you start to care, the whole thing becomes incredible obvious, and the movie becomes a waiting game. When what you expect to see actually happens, it's anti-climactic, instead of the powerful statement that it might have been in another story.
Director Rebecca Cook certainly gets the visuals down right, using a variety of techniques to keep the film interesting when the story drags. At times, the tricks can be a bit distracting, but when they work they are wonderful. It would be tempting to say that the film relies too much on the look, since the story doesn't quite work, but truthfully, they are used judicially and to proper effect, especially the changes in color, which indicate a great deal about what's happening.
One major problem with a movie like this, is the songs sung by Livien. When you try to make the song seem great, they truly have to be, otherwise they won't do what you want them to do. That's why Almost Famous's original songs worked, as they sounded like the efforts of a quality rock band. Here, the songs aren't bad, but they are more like an Oasis cover band than Beatles-esque. As a result, it's hard to take Livien as a genius, which hurts the overall effect of the story. It would be almost impossible to achieve what this film attempts without using legendary music.
Released on one DVD, Shooting Livien is packed in a clear keepcase that has a picture of Livien on the inside back cover. The disc features an animated main menu with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. The scene selection menu has still previews and titles for each chapter, while the language options include English 2.0 and 5.1 (Dolby Digital and DTS), along with English subtitles, but no closed captioning.
Shot on high-definition video, the anamorphic widescreen film has a pretty sharp feel to it, and the color, contrast and sharpness has been manipulated to achieve very specific looks. The film is generally very cold in terms of the color palette, but certain scenes are presented in very vibrant full colors, resulting in some very effective visual moments. Darker scenes suffer from video noise, but for the most part, the image is sharp, with a good deal of detail. It's a quality presentation for a film that places a great deal of importance on the visuals.
The audio is presented in three options, two of which are 5.1, a Dolby Digital and a DTS track. The DTS track carries with it a slightly deeper sound, though both tracks do a good job of presenting the movie's mix of music and dialogue. During songs, the side and rear speakers bulk up the effort, while some scenes include some interesting audio effects that are presented very well.
A statement from the director, presented as a series of text screens, kicks things off, as Cook explains why she made the movie and what went into that effort. Informative, yes. Entertaining, no. A short 14-minute featurette, "The Making of Shooting Livien," follows, and is "hosted" by Cook. Using plenty of on-set footage, the piece covers traditional making-of ground, going inside the production.
Aside from a quartet of TLA trailers, the only other extra is a DVD-ROM feature, a PDF of the film's shooting script. It might be of interest to potential indie filmmakers out there.
The Bottom Line
Though visually interesting and conceptually intriguing, the execution is just too scattershot to create a complete film. The story is all over the place, presenting a story that's both familiar and confusing, but certainly not cohesive. In the end, the movie is nearly as pretentious as its main character and fails to satisfy because of it. On the other hand, the DVD presentation is solid, though lacking in terms of extras. Viewers who enjoy looking at the handsome leads or those looking for a bit of Lennon Lite shouldn't be disappointed, but others should tread carefully.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.