SXSW Film Review: Disgraced, Pat Kondelis, 2017

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Movies, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment


First, a bit of venue overview. Alamo Ritz wins the prize for the “most alternative” fillers of any theater I’ve attended. No black screens of boredom here before your show. There were 70s French art house music videos with people bowing as if playing violins on body parts; a band called Telegenics singing about dominatrix; cat videos; bollywood music videos full of transforming smart phones, belly-dancing men in tiger costumes, and of course large group dancing. Just before the show starts, Bobby the Giant Child from Food of the Gods II reminds would-be texting viewers that if they violate that sacred trust, they need to “get the fuck outta my room!”


I feel obligated to start with a buoyant tone, because nothing about this film is light. Disgraced opens when Patrick Dennehy, a star player of the Baylor university basketball team, went missing in 2003. A few days after the police was informed, a full canvas and investigation began. But the deeper they delved, the less clear the case became. The local police forces and the FBI slowly pieced together a trail that revealed how his friend and roommate had gunned him down in a grassy field, without any motive whatsoever. But this story only gets more bizarre. In his zeal to win a basketball championship, it appears that the head coach Dave Bliss had made deals with players that breached NCAA code of conduct. Somehow, Bliss’ involvement was intricately linked to the murder. The details were not just suspicious. It was serious enough that Bliss applied pressure to turn his players into accomplices. They wanted to besmirch the dead in order to save Bliss from an NCAA investigation. If that’s not a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes, I don’t know what is.

In real life, detectives don’t have an all-powerful Mycroft at their beck and call. Even though this tragedy garnered national attention back then, it was never resolved on a level that would be satisfactory to anyone. Yet since the issues were local to Texas, once the national optics turned elsewhere and the news cycle faded, these influences came into the fore. Prominent among these local interests is Baylor University itself, which saw the murder case and the associated issues with the basketball program as a scandal, and sought to sweep things under the rug. If not for just one wrinkle, we would not have this documentary – Patrick’s roommate was found to be mentally-ill, confessed and was sentenced; Bliss resigned; everything seemed settled.

However, Bliss’ assistant coach recorded him scheming. On tape.

Those tapes, the fallout, and what truth they obscured, are in fact the whole point of Disgraced. The cinematography and reenactments are clearly well-produced. But these elements serve to set the desired context, in order that the audience can appreciate the recordings. It permitted Bliss, who was interviewed comprehensively, an ostensible chance to defend himself. In the Q&A after the screening, the Austin-based filmmaker Pat Kondelis suggested that in the early days while arranging the interview, Bliss led him to believe that a type of confession would be forthcoming. These exchanges and discussions, even now, are still tinged with a very local and emotional element. There were support for either side: I spied a few Baylor supporters who left in disgust right after the screening, and there’s certainly no doubt where Kondelis stands. One might be turned off by this type of potential bias. But it still doesn’t detract from the compelling and damning evidence. What this documentary mimics is a traveling courtroom. And each audience as jury, I expect, experiences that cast-the-first-stone moment: the sheer gall of the officials and Bliss in constructing the lie; their insistence that the victim “deserved his fate”; the destruction these memories and lingering questions wrought on Dennehy’s family. The audience booed each bold face lie, jeered at Bliss’ amateurish denial, and shed tears with the parents. It’s a remote yet strangely participatory film. 14 years since that time, Baylor University is again in the spotlight with a new scandal, this time regarding sexual assault. Though it may take a first-class mind to wade through the minutiae of evidence, it takes only a first-grade one to see that denial is no longer working. Although as the film seeks to remind us, Bliss IS still working as a basketball coach. Now, that is something to think about.

Concert Review: Primal Scream, November 4, Danforth Music Hall

Posted on by Ricky in Reviews | Leave a comment
Photo by Sarah Rix

Photo by Sarah Rix

Playing an eerily similar set to what they played at Danforth Music Hall just over a year and a half ago, the Primal Scream show last Friday was short on surprises but to a liquored up Friday night middle aged crowd, that was just fine. Sometimes the best things in life are the comfortable things, like a sip of your favourite scotch or the pleasant feeling of getting that bi monthly paycheck. At the risk of going off the rails here are some comments. I’m not gonna bother introducing the band because you aren’t reading this thing to know what a band you haven’t heard about sounds like live anyway. If you disagree, I ask you to go read an episode recap of some TV show you don’t watch.

Movin On Up – I’m uncertain as to whether or not I like this as the first song of the set or as the first song of the encore. As a lead song it gets you into a great mood and everyone is into it, but as a downside you don’t get Bobby Gillespie yelling, “Are you ready to testify!” while everyone is already dancing before launching into the song.

Swastika Eyes – this song is a beast live. I mean it sounds nice live but to hear it with a full band in all its loud glory is a different experience all together. You compare this with Screamadelica material and it’s amazing how it comes from the same band

Rocks – “Rocks” was a bit disappointing. To me, “Rocks” is just a blistering rock tune that’s full of swagger and just a track that makes you feel cool. However, Bobby kinda just hung back and didn’t deliver the song with as much gusto as I would have expected. It was at this point I was wondering – Is he tired? Are we old? Is this an end of the tour kinda show? I couldn’t place it, but it was definitely lacking the punch you normally expect.

Come Together – The glaring omission from last years show was a good enough reason attend this years show. One of the many great tracks off Screamadelica, “Come Together”‘s dreamy sound soothed all the souls in the house if only for a few minutes and left everyone in a feel good mood. There’s something calming and uplifting about singing “I’m Free! You’re Free!” with a room full of people.

Whatever reservation I might have about this show, which I put as slightly inferior to last years, the crowd still ate it up. Frankly, even if I feel like this show had a little less energy then last year’s show, I also have a little less energy than last year so it’s probably fitting in a macro kind of way.

Hot Docs Review: Miss Sharon Jones! [2016, Barbara Kopple]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Not so much a music doc as it is a triumphant look at the human spirit, Miss Sharon Jones! is a heartwarming tale of the incomparable Sharon Jone’s fight with cancer, which occurred a few years ago.

Directed by Barbara Kopple, the documentary follows Sharon Jones from the onset of her illness to her recovery stage, mixing in live music footage, talking heads and an observational style. The documentary mostly assumes that you are aware of who Sharon Jones is (even if most of the regular day people she encounters does not) and doesn’t really delve into her musical journey from wedding singer to Daptones MVP. Still, those who are fans of her will delight in the fact that Sharon Jones is as much a fighting spirit off the stage as she is on the stage.

As you watch the Sharon Jones battle cancer, you can’t help but feel a sense of joy when she overcomes the illness and goes back to what she loves doing most – performing. The film, as you would expect, is soundtracked by the music of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and the songs are carefully chosen, lending extra weight to some of the lyrics of the songs that accompany the journey.

A splendid film.

Miss Sharon Jones! plays this upcoming week at Hot Docs Cinema, click here for more details.

Concert Review: Tegan & Sara, June 25, Hilton Toronto

Posted on by Ricky in Reviews | Leave a comment

tegan & sara

It’s not every day you get invited to a private concert. It’s certainly not every day you get invited to a private concert by Hilton Hotels featuring Tegan & Sara, so like a moth to the flame, I hastily accepted my invitation to this exclusive show that took place Saturday night in the heart of Toronto.

A show held by Hilton Toronto that was billed as an exclusive experience to Hilton HHonors members, Tegan & Sara was a small and intimate affair in which probably half the crowd just went there for free food and drinks, but definitely left as Tegan & Sara fans.

It’s funny, as I was doing my typical in-depth (but not too in-depth) analysis of the night, I came to the startling realization that Tegan & Sara might just be my favorite Canadian act from the past half decade. Starting with The Con, I have definitely enjoyed their releases, accumulating with their new release, Love You To Death. Released just recently, Love You to Death is pop music at it’s finest, big tracks full of hooks and ear worms. As the group took the stage and launched into their first track, the hit single “Boyfriend,” it was apparent I was not the only one who felt that way as a majority of that crowd already knew the lyrics.

The rest of the set comprised of a combination of tracks from their previous works, including old classic “Walking With a Ghost.” In between the set, the group engaged with the crowd, telling stories about latte art, their love for Hilton (maybe tongue in cheek) and accepting facetime messages from fans on stage. It was all part of the Tegan & Sara charm. Standouts from the set include new track “Stop Desire and of course, the closing song “Closer,” one of their best and most likely identified as the track that ushered in the Tegan & Sara pop era, one that has seen them rise to the top and based off this record, will keep them there for awhile.

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