Hidden Netflix Gems – Magic Trip

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Fans of Tom Wolfe‘s seminal 1968 non-fiction novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test have been waiting a long time to see Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood‘s Magic Trip, whether they knew it or not. Though a narrative adaptation of the definitive book on hippie culture is reportedly in the works from director Gus Van Sant and his Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, this is the closest thing to an adaptation we’re likely to see anytime soon. In fact, it’s even better, because the documentary, subtitled Ken Kesey‘s Search for a Kool Place, is assembled almost entirely from the footage Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters shot during their LSD-fueled cross-country road trip beginning in 1964.

This is not to say you have to be a fan of Wolfe’s book to enjoy Magic Trip. Fans of Hunter S. Thompson‘s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and/or Terry Gilliam‘s film adaptation of it, the Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsberg, or Kesey himself will also get a lot of enjoyment out of it, along with anyone who appreciates wild, anarchic adventure. Narrated by Stanley Tucci, the film tells the story of Kesey (best known as the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and a group of friends who set off for the 1964 New York World’s Fair in a hand-painted school bus and then just kept going, traveling all around the country in an effort to expand the consciousness of the entire United States. Along the way, they threw parties with the likes of Thompson and Timothy Leary, and gave a then unknown band called the Warlocks (who later became the Grateful Dead) their start as an unofficial house band.

Kesey is an extraordinarily charismatic figure, a champion high school and college wrestler who turned his back on athletics in favor of writing and exploring the landscape of his mind. He first began experimenting with psychedelic drugs as a volunteer in a CIA-funded experiment, so it could be said that the U.S. government inadvertently sponsored the madness shown in this film. Another fascinating character is Neal Cassady, the Merry Pranksters’ bus driver, a wildly energetic figure who served as the model for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac‘s revered 1957 novel On the Road, which was itself a source of inspiration for Kesey and the Pranksters’ trip. Gibney, who won an Oscar for his amazing 2007 documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, and first-time feature director Ellwood, took on the daunting task of crafting a 107-minute film out of the Pranksters’ days of footage, and they succeeded admirably. Magic Trip perfectly captures the unbridled spirit of a once-in-a-lifetime era, and offers a hell of a good ride to anyone who views it.

  

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Saturday trailer #1: “Water for Elephants”

So, Robert Pattinson turns into Hal Holbrook, but before he does, Reese Witherspoon must choose between him and a ringmaster/animal trainer played by Christoph Waltz and, I guess, an elephant. Since, as per Brad Brevet, Waltz is a nasty paranoid schizophrenic here, I guess I’d have to recommend the elephant.

But, seriously, even though the dialogue in this trailer sounds pretty trite, this might turn out to be a pretty cool old-fashioned romantic melodrama. I don’t know anything about the novel this is based on by Sara Gruen, but scripter Richard LaGravenese has written some superb screenplays, particularly his own hugely underrated “Living Out Loud,” which he directed, and “The Fisher King” with Terry Gilliam. The director is Francis Lawrence of “I Am Legend.”

  

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Happy 70th, Mr. Gilliam

Terry Gilliam is 70. We celebrate with the best part of “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life,” “The Crimson Permanent Assurance.”

  

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Midweek movie news

You’d think Jewish New Year and Labor Day coming so close together would slow down the pace of movie news a little, but leisure is for suckers and Yahweh is just another bit player in this hard luck town.

* The talk of the geek-o-sphere for some time is going to be the announcement of a massive and potentially trendsetting film/television cross-over adaptation of Stephen King’s multi-volume “The Dark Tower” mega-epic. Universal, which has had some very tough times lately, is taking what I’m guessing could be a make-it-or-break-it gamble on the project, the news of which was broken by Mike Fleming earlier.  I’m not a King reader, but I am intrigued by the fact that it’s a western-science fiction-horror cross-breed. In any case apparently the plan is to start with a movie, go to a 22 episode not-so-mini-series, and then onto another movie, another series, then wrapping it all up with movie. The idea being to provide fans with both the grandeur of theatrical films and the detail and time of a television series.

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It’s intriguing but laden with potential pitfalls. One is that it demands an awful lot of time and people who aren’t following the series may feel shut out of the latter two movies. The other is that, quite frankly, I feel the “A Dangerous Mind” creative team of director Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman — who I gather will be writing and directing the first two films and the entire first series at least, which could be some kind of record if that’s what’s really going to happen — simply haven’t indicated they’re up to this kind of material. I hate to say it but winning Oscars can be negative indicator sometimes.

It’s not that I doubt their ability to crank it all out. Howard is obviously a very competent director who knows how to make highly professional material and I have tremendous respect for him as an individual and one of the more positive forces in Big Moviedom. However, he’s always shown a tendency to play it safe and often a bit dull when the chips are really down creatively as a director and none of Goldsman’s movies have been all that inspiring to me either. All I’m saying is that I had a good feeling about Peter Jackson taking on “The Lord of the Rings” and I have a bad feeling about it, though I’d seriously love to be wrong.  Something tells me this project needs a real lunatic and Ron Howard is one of the sanest guys in show business. Huge King fan Quint at AICN has similar misgivings. He has a more riding on this than I.

* Simon Abrams is right re: “Kick-Ass” doing a lot better than people assumed. Even though I cover the weekend grosses here, we all make way too much of those openings and fail to look at the overall picture. Calling a movie a bomb that makes nearly half its budget in its opening weekend is just idiotic anyhow. The actual success of the film may have figured in the ongoing financial struggles between Lionsgate and Carl Icahn.

Aaron Johnson is

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Hurried and harried midweek movie news

I’m blogging tonight from the Gower Gulch Starbucks, right in the heart of deepest darkest Hollywood, and as I said in the post right below this, seriously pressed for time tonight. A bunch of work still to be done ,a studio screening, plus a bunch of other stuff that won’t interest you. Also, there’s a guy behind me conducting an impromptu revival service for an audience of none, which is a little distracting.

So, that Comic-Con thumb-sucker will just have to wait as I present only a few selected items of movie news to nourish your spirits.

* Speaking of Comic-Con, in terms of innovation, influence, and ability to tell a simple story very well, Will Eisner was pretty much the D.W. Griffith, John Ford, and Billy Wilder of comic books all rolled into one, but few people who aren’t serious comics fans even know his name. 2008’s despicable “The Spirit” most certainly did not help with his memory or in terms of encouraging a younger generation to check out his work. (I’m glad the movie did horribly because if kids had liked the hyperviolent and mean-spirited film, they would have had no time for the humanistic original.).

Now, via /Film’s Russ Fischer, we hear that an appropriately low budget/indie film version of Eisner’s groundbreaking non-genre comic, “A Contract with God,” is in the works. Among other points of interest, it was the book that caused Eisner to come up with the term “graphic novel” when he was led to believe the publisher wouldn’t want to be involved with a mere “comic book.” Ironically enough, it’s actually a collection of related short stories and the term “graphic novel” actually may predate the incident, so Fischer isn’t  wrong when he says it’s not the first graphic novel. I truly hope this turns out well and makes everyone forget that other movie. It was nice that this was announced at the awards named for Eisner, who died in 2005, at Comic-Con.

eisner

* In the here-we-go-again file, it looks like Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is being delayed for the millionth time, says the Playlist. And check out that graphic making Gilliam look a bit like a certain Mr. Orson Welles, who also struggled for years to make his vision of Cervantes’ classic delusional non-knight-errant.

* Another Deadline story: Kudos to writer Phil Johnston and Zack Galifianakis for taking on the deadly scourge that is the “Reply All” button. The children must be warned.

* The Jack Sparrow comparison will come easily to many with news of Russell Brand’s possible swashbuckling debut, but any excuse for swordfighting comedies that might actually be good works for me. (Actually, the character as described reminds me more than a bit of George MacDonald Fraser’s “Royal Flash,” portrayed by a young Malcolm McDowell. Never read the book(s) or saw the movie, but since it was directed by the great Richard Lester, I really need to.)

  

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