Monday, July 19, 2004


Untitled is the movie that would eventually becom Almost Famous, one of the best films of the last decade, and probably my favorite, next to Shawshank Redemption. For those who don't know, it's the story of William, a 15 year old boy, who's given the chance to write for Rolling Stone. The catch being they don't know he's 15, and he has to get his mother to agree to let him tour with Stillwater, an up-and-coming 70's band. Now, while the plot sounds too ridiculous to believe, it's actually based on director Cameron Crowe's childhood. It has a "the names have been changed to protect the innocent (or the guilty even)" feel to it, but it works in its favor for the most part.

The movie is cast brilliantly, with all-but-unknown Patrick Fugit playing the sometimes over eager William Miller, Billy Crudup (Big Fish) playing lead guitarist Russel Hammond, Francis McDormand (Fargo, Wonder Boys) playin Ms. Miller (or, Elaine, his mother, if you like), Kate Hudson ( as Penny Lane, the object of everyone's affection, Jason Lee (Mallrats, Chasing Amy) as lead singer Jeff BeBe, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as real life rock journalist Lester Bangs. Not tomention bit players like Anna Paquin (X-Men, X2), Zooey Deschanel (Abandon, Elf), Fairuza Balk (The Waterboy, American History X), Noah Taylor (Max, Tomb Raider), and Jimmy Fallon (SNL). See?

Crowe handles directing duties like he never has before, making sure the movie is very true to its 1973 roots. You'd be hard pressed to find something that doesn't fit, if you could find anything at all, right down to the music of course. The music is where the movie really gets its soul, and basically it's Crowes love letter to the year that gave him so much, and it shows. I'm sure there are those out there who would argue that the movie basically looks at the time period through rose colored goggles, but in the end, when we choose to remember something, we always try to remember it fondly. Not to say that the movie doesn't have its moments of "badness," it does, at the end William is essentially screwed over by the people he's come to trust, if just for a moment. However, Crowes script and direction bring such likeability to them (them being the band, Stillwater) that it's really hard to hate them. Even William finds it hard, telling Penny at one point that he wants to like "him" referring to Russel. So, yeah, even in the bad situations the film seems to give you a peaceful, easy feeling...excuse the pun.

The extras on the "Untitled" DVD make it worth whatever amount you need to spend on it. There are two cuts of the film, the complete Stillwater concert, a Stillwater CD (with songs written by Crowe and wife Nancy Wilson of Heart), deleted scenes (including an interactive one, which requires you to have a copy of Stairway to Heaven handy, directors commentary over the extended version (guest starring Crowe's mother), production notes, bios, a behind the scenes look, interviews with the real Lester Bangs, Crowe's original Rolling Stone articles, a music video, the screenplay, and of course, the trailer for the film. Whew.

I could drone on about the movie, and why I think it's one of the most important films ever made, but I won't. It's hands down Crowe's best effort as a writer/director, and lilely always will be. It's one of my favorite film of all time, and one of the best, and this DVD set makes it that much more. If you haven't seen it, you're truly missing out. Even if you don't buy the Untitled cut, the Almost Famous release is worth a look. Granted the special features aren't anywhere near this ones, but the film is there, and that's the most important part.

A few more comments if I may:

Billy Crudup is magnificent in this film, as are his band mates. Never do you feel like they are "pretending" to be a band. Every bit of tension and joy they feel, you feel too.

Hoffman as Lester Bangs is inspired. The man was channeling him perfectly. After watching the interviews its eerie how well Hoffman played the part.

Kate Hudson will make you fall in love with her in this film. The first time I saw it I thought she was just such a great actress, but after seeing a few other films I've come to believe it is Crowe's writing that brings her into your heart, and not the acting.

Francis McDormand all but steals the film. She's everyone's mother.

Like I said, it's Crowe's love letter to the year that gave him so much, and it shows.


(Note: I no longer have spellcheck either, apparently, so forgive any errors. Also, everything shows up in bold print now...not sure how that happened either. Sigh...)

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