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The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle

Shout Factory
Movie B-
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle is the first of two films about the Sex Pistols from writer-director Julien Temple (his other being The Filth and the Fury). A pre-Spinal Tap rockumentary/mockumentary, it chronicles the nefarious ambitions of Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, who states that the Pistols were nothing more than a scam perpetrated by him to make a million pounds. Playing himself, McLaren claims sole responsibility for the rise and fall of the Pistols, a band always destined to die.

Whether or not McLaren was serious or just screwing around, the film proved to be prophetic. By the time the movie was released, the Pistols were no more. Johnny Rotten had left the band to become John Lydon, frontman for the alternative rock band Public Image Limited. Sid Vicious, the snarling, half-naked and blood-smeared bassist that Billy Idol owes his entire career to, was not only a confessed murderer of his girlfriend, but very dead himself from heroin overdose.

As a film, Swindle is a fascinating disaster. The plotting is all screwy, but there's some great animation shorts and music, including the Pistols performing "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen." Vicious, who participated in the project after Rotten's angry exit from the band, is seen in some solo videos including the historic performance of Sinatra's My Way, culminating with him shooting his own mother in the audience.

Of course, the band reunited in 2003, sans the very dead Sid Vicious, for an embarrassing tour, so this film didn't stand as the end of the Pistols. Too bad.

Special Features: For those wanting a little more Pistols history, Temple sits down for a revealing interview as well as a DVD commentary. Any confusion over what was real and what was fake in the film is addressed.


Fearless Freaks

Shout Factory
Movie B+
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

The Flaming Lips are a band that is pretty much taken for granted. I cite myself as an example. Having dismissed them as a little silly after their single "She Don't Use Jelly," I didn't pay much attention to them again until a radio DJ was going all crazy for their album The Soft Bulletin. Inspired by his enthusiasm, I purchased Bulletin, fell in love with the surprisingly serious band and have followed them ever since.

Okalahoma's the Flaming Lips arrived on the music scene in 1983, a hardcore mixture of Pistols-like punk and Zappa-tinged eccentricity. In their documentary The Fearless Freaks, lead singer Wayne Coyne rightly admits that his band didn't have the best of musical ability, so the goal was to be as loud and theatric as possible. Coyne saw the Lips as a hillbilly version of the Who, but the ear crunching musical approach would shift over the years. The band eventually changed its lineup to a more musically accomplished and ambitious lot, scoring with the modern rock hit She Don't Use Jelly, then Bulletin and most recently with the 2002 masterpiece Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

Freaks covers the band from their adolescent friendships through a triumphant performance at the 2004 Coachella Music Festival. It's a candid look at one of the music world's most underrated bands, and even includes raw footage of drummer Steven Drozd taking heroin (he has since kicked the habit).

Special Features: The two-DVD set includes deleted scenes and performances, as well as a band and director's commentary. The true joy of the disc is in the film itself, but those looking to dig a little deeper will appreciate the second disc's offerings. On a sad note, the band's music videos are not included.


Undertow

MGM
Movie B-
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 5.5 (out of 10)

Writer-director David Gordon Green is a remarkably talented man. In saying that Undertow is his weakest film to date, I'm saying the George Washington and All the Real Girls were great, wherein this southern thriller is merely good. Josh Lucas is excellent as the vengeful Uncle Deel, a jealous man who, upon release from prison, gives his brother (Dermot Mulroney) and his sons (Jamie Bell and Tim Munn) a heap of trouble. After a tragedy, the boys flee into the wilderness, making stops along their way to an inevitable confrontation with Deel. Green is a master with the visuals, and the performances are tremendous. If anything, the movie suffers a tad from Green's meditative style, which goes a little overboard at times and shatters any sense of reality. Still, there's much to like here, and Bell delivers on the promise he showed in Billy Elliot (although there is no dancing that I can recall).

Special Features: Some deleted scenes, including an extended death scene that most certainly needed to be cut from the film, can be viewed. Bell and Green provide a surprising commentary. (Bell often complains about stuff Green deleted from the film.) A decent enough behind-the-scenes short with a Josh Lucas intro rounds out the supplements.

More by Bob Grimm

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