CRITICS' PICKS

Titan of the Clash: Examining the Life of Joe Strummer

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

"JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN"

Before he became a seminal figure in the punk rock movement, Joe Strummer was John Mellor, a charismatic British schoolboy with a wicked sense of irony and a passion for all kinds of music -- from Delta blues to the experimentalism of Captain Beefheart.

I'm hoping that Julien Temple's forthcoming documentary, "Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten," revisits Strummer's school days and provides an evocative account of all that followed: his life as a penniless busker in London, his heady years with the Clash, his personal relationships, and his second musical chapter, as the frontman for the Mescaleros before his fatal heart attack in 2002.

If I can't have my personal idol back, I'd sure like to see him live again, that sneery smile writ large across the big screen, that feverish right hand a manic blur across the guitar strings, and his urgent, intelligent music reaching out to me through the darkness.

"MARGOT AT THE WEDDING"

Uh-oh. This film has that W-word in the title, which usually spells "warning" to this critic. If there's one conceit that induces yawns, it's a story built around the rituals of "I do." But here's the lure of "Margot": It's written and directed by Noah Baumbach, maker of 2005's "The Squid and the Whale," the most compelling family-relationship movie of almost any year. Immediately, we know that the wedding in this movie will surely ring with irony rather than the peal of church bells, which makes it immediately more interesting. And even though the presence of Nicole Kidman and Jack Black in the cast could portend star-driven hokum, we do remember Kidman can go deep, which she did, for instance, as the prosthetically enhanced Virginia Woolf. Mainly, we are confident that Baumbach has not forgotten how to make sharply observed films about family or people. And the premise, in which Margot (played by Kidman) takes a trip to visit the undesirable fiance (Black) of her sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Baumbach's real-life wife) sounds like an excellent starting point.

-- Desson Thomson


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