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Meat Loaf:

In Search of Paradise

Voom HD Pictures



NEW YORK — Far more appropriate to be a concert DVD extra feature, "Meat Loaf: In Search of Paradise" is an impressionistic portrait of the colorful rocker that woefully lacks the depth that would justify this theatrical release. While the documentary will no doubt appeal to the many fans who made "Bat Out of Hell" one of the biggest-selling rock albums of all time, it stands mainly as a missed opportunity.

Bruce David Klein's film concentrates on the 2007 world tour supporting "Bat Out of Hell III," the second sequel to the iconic 1977 release. Although it provides some biographical snippets about the singer's life and career, it does so in a perfunctory, less than illuminating manner. Ignored, for instance, is his well-reported long-term feud with collaborator Jim Steinman.

The singer (whose real name is Marvin Lee Aday) proves an irascible and less than cooperative subject, often seen railing against the camera's presence. There are times when his shyness is understandable, especially when the filmmaker focuses on his near-complete collapse after delivering one of his high-energy shows.

As hinted at in the subtitle, a dramatic theme of sorts is established with the difficulty over the staging in the show of one of his trademark numbers, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Featuring the portly 59-year-old sexily cavorting with a barely clad, nubile twentysomething female singer, it raises the ire of music critics who deem the routine perverted and unsavory. Eventually the singer finds a way to successfully restage the number in a manner that trades tawdriness for nostalgia.

Although a highly charismatic figure, Meat Loaf's reticence to reveal himself in front of the camera ultimately proves detrimental, and the brief appearance of Dennis Quaid, who joins in with the band on a rendition of "Gloria" and amusingly describes the singer as an "angster," provides scant compensation.

Backseat

Truly Indie

NEW YORK — A road movie that runs out of gas almost immediately after it starts, "Backseat" is the sort of quirky indie feature that impresses at festivals but feels wan under real cinematic conditions.

This portrait of two slacker buddies experiencing a series of misadventures while driving from New York to Montreal in order to meet Donald Sutherland — don't ask — demands excessive indulgence on the part of the viewer.

The typically immature, thirtysomething central characters are struggling actor Colton (Josh Alexander, who also wrote the screenplay) and his unemployed best friend, Ben (Rob Bogue), who is experiencing romantic problems with his girlfriend because of his inability to satisfy her desire for rougher sex.

The story's main source of tension stems from Colton's rash decision to smuggle a stash of cocaine through the border as a favor to another friend, resulting in predictably wacky complications. Among the odd characters the duo encounter on their journey are an underage convenience store clerk with whom Colton bonds after she shows him her gun, a stripper with the inevitable heart of gold and a misfit who communicates only via text messaging.

Director Bruce Van Dusen is unable to provide a consistent tone to the proceedings, and the actors aren't charming enough to make their characters' eccentricities endearing rather than simply annoying. Although there are some amusing moments scattered throughout, like Colton's movie audition in which he unexpectedly drops trou, "Backseat" ultimately feels like a short journey filled with far too many annoying detours.

Shotgun Stories

Liberation Entertainment/ International Film Circuit

NEW YORK — Jeff Nichols' contemporary Southern gothic tale indicates the influence of producer David Gordon Green ("George Washington," "Snow Angels") in its elegiac pacing and lyrical shots of depressed landscapes. But for all its formal elegance, this story of a modern-day Hatfields-and-McCoys-style feud is far less interesting in terms of its narrative and characterizations. "Shotgun Stories," recently nominated for a John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award, played an exclusive engagement at New York's IFC Center.

Michael Shannon, who has excelled in such films as "Bug" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," again displays his compelling screen presence as Son, one of three brothers barely managing to survive in the bleak environs of rural southeast Arkansas. He and his comparably named siblings — Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid (Barlow Jacobs) — long ago were abandoned by their alcoholic father to be raised by their embittered mother (Natalie Canerday).

The father moved on to a new life, finding religion, becoming sober and subsequently raising another family consisting of four brothers who enjoy demonstrably greater means. When the father dies and Son and his brothers crash the funeral to convey their disrespects, it sets off a blood feud that ultimately becomes violent.

The writer-director's attempt at a Greek-type mythos feels more than a little strained, and only in the film's quieter, subtler moments — as when Son strips off his shirt to reveal unexplained shotgun pellet wounds all over his back — does it achieve the effects for which it's reaching. Although it boasts excellent, fully lived-in performances and a genuine sense of atmosphere thanks in large part to Adam Stone's poetic cinematography and the haunting musical score by Ben Nichols and his band Lucero, "Shotgun" never manages to be fully convincing.

Hats Off

Abramorama

NEW YORK — You might not know it, but you've probably already been exposed to Mimi Weddell, the subject of Jyll Johnstone's entertaining if slight documentary "Hats Off."

The 93-year-old actress is fairly ubiquitous, both in print ads (for the likes of Luis Vuitton, Burberry and many others) and film and television, with credits including "Sex and the City," "Law & Order," "Hitch," "Across the Universe" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo." If you're a horror fan, you might recognize her as the murderous alta kocker from "Student Bodies."

The film's title stems from one of Weddell's numerous eccentricities, namely her habit of wearing one of her 300 hats every time she walks out the door. As seen here, the senior performer is a memorably idiosyncratic figure in remarkable physical condition. Living by her motivational credo of "rise above it," she's still more than capable of performing rigorous gymnastics and declares at one point, "If people walk slowly in front of me these days, I want to kick them!"

Weddell became a full-time actress at age 65, after her husband died suddenly and left her financially bereft. This cinematic portrait vividly depicts the daily grind of being a working actor, following her as she subjects herself to an exhausting routine of cattle call-style auditions.

Although it's highly effective at conveying the amusing aspects of its subject's quirky personality, "Hats Off" is less than meaningful in terms of terms of getting under her skin. Despite the inclusion of interviews with Weddell's bemused adult children, who clearly have more than a few issues with their mother, the film fails to provide the psychological perspective necessary to lift it above the level of kitsch.
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