Movies » Movie Reviews

Lessons in being passive and aggressive


It probably seemed like a simple proposition: Award-winning documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky would be granted unlimited access to Metallica, underground speed-metal band turned platinum-selling behemoth, while they wrote and recorded their next album.

Berlinger and Sinofsky already had a relationship with the group, having used its music for the intense Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (the film responsible for putting the battlecry "Free the West Memphis Three" into the lexicon), and most likely thought Metallica could make for an interesting documentary subject.

Metallica, for its part, was in need of some extra publicity as it worked to recapture its relevance. Win-win, right? Win-win-win, actually, if you count voyeurs like me.

Berlinger and Sinofsky open Metallica: Some Kind of Monster with a little Metallica 101 for the uninitiated: together since 1981, original bass player crushed by bus in 1986, 90 million albums sold to date. In nifty, economical fashion, Berlinger and Sinofsky illustrate the evolution of the band over the years through a seamless performance of "Seek and Destroy" during which the concert venues get bigger and the hair gets smaller. It's January 2001 as the bandmembers head into their custom-built studio, but something is rotten in the State of California. Things aren't coming together as effortlessly as they had in the past, and that's when management steps in.

Enter $40,000-a-month therapist Phil Towle, also known as a "performance enhancement coach," who begins to tackle the underlying problems between singer James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, Metallica's two remaining original members. The brooding Hetfield's lack of focus is frustrating the hyper Ulrich, and they bolster their lousy communication with snide comments and temper tantrums (the stellar camerawork doesn't seem to miss a sigh, sneer, or roll of the eyes).

Hetfield eventually extricates himself from the situation and heads for rehab, leaving the selfish Ulrich and peace-seeking guitarist Kirk Hammett to cool their heels for a year. Meanwhile, sycophantic babysitter --- I mean performance enhancement coach --- Towle continues to collect fat paychecks, unwittingly giving the newly lucid Hetfield and slightly less-childish Ulrich common ground on which to meet as Towle tries to convince Metallica how badly it still needs him during the recording of what will eventually become St. Anger.

There are interludes during which we spend time with the bandmembers while they pursue their various outside interests (Hammett at his ranch, Hetfield at his daughter's ballet recital, and, in a satisfying bit of irony, Napster-bashing Ulrich selling his collection of Basquiats). We hear from classy ex-bassist Jason Newsted, whiny ex-guitarist Dave Mustaine, and Ulrich's dad Torben, a bearded elfin guy who is not afraid to point out when the emperor has no clothes.

And we get to see the audition process as Metallica rejects a Who's Who of rock bassists (including Marilyn Manson's Twiggy Ramirez, Nine Inch Nails's Danny Lohner, and Kyuss's Scott Reeder) before settling on a very surprised Robert Trujillo, formerly of Suicidal Tendencies.

It's not easy to feel sorry for the rock stars. Waking up at the crack of noon as Miss September skanks her way back to The Grotto, shaking your fist at the armored truck tearing up the lawn after dropping off your royalties, and watching 20,000 people go bananas while you do your job don't seem like actual problems. But rock stars are human beings with feelings and --- oh, whatever. Boo hoo. Save it for your performance enhancement coach. And don't forget to film it.

My friend giggled at the word "Hitchcockian" on the poster for director Cedric Kahn's Red Lights. Being a bit more mature than he is, I was merely irritated. Why is it that every movie with the slightest bit of suspense gets compared to an Alfred Hitchcock film? Sure, Red Lights features Hitchcockish claustrophobia, Hitchcockesque music courtesy of Claude Debussy, Hitchcockiful tension that leaves your mouth dry and your fingernails shorter, and a gorgeous woman driving a weak-willed man to do Hitchcocky things. But "Hitchcockian"? That's not even a word.

Antoine Dunan (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) is a middle-management Parisian with a cool corporate lawyer wife named Helene (one-time Bond girl Carole Bouquet) and two kids that need to be picked up from camp and taken to Basque country so the whole family can enjoy a two-week vacation. We sense trouble brewing as Antoine downs a few drinks while he waits at the café for Helene, and then a couple more under the guise of getting the car ready while she showers.

Antoine and Helene start bickering once they hit the road. He stops occasionally to sneak more belts until she finally issues an ultimatum that results in them going their separate ways.

But the increasingly drunken Antoine won't be traveling alone --- he gives a lift to a menacing stranger with terrifying consequences, only to learn that Helene crossed paths earlier with the same man.

This is Darroussin's show. Normally a character actor and reminding me of a Gallic Billy Bob Thornton, he's in every scene and deftly conveys the desperation of a man who feels emasculated by his successful wife and tries to take control in the most passive-aggressive ways imaginable, only to have his bluff completely and thoroughly Hitchcocked.

Red Lights (NR) and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (NR) both open at the Little Theatre on Friday, December 10.