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Almost Famous

review by Zach B.

Rated R

Studio: Dreamworks

Running Time: 123 minutes

Starring Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, Noah Taylor and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Written and Directed by Cameron Crowe

Retail Price: $26.99

Features: "The Making Of Almost Famous" HBO Featurette, Stillwater's "Fever Dog" Music Video, Cameron Crowe "Rolling Stone" Articles, Theatrical Trailer, Soundtrack Promo, Cast and Crew Bios, Production Notes

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, Chapter Search (24 Chapters)

"What are you, the star of your school?"

"They hate me."

"You'll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle."


Once in a long while a movie comes along that captures the hearts and minds of critics and film lovers everywhere. A movie with that perfect mix of humor, drama, soul and heart. A movie that makes you feel so good, so alive and inspired inside. An urge to capture every bit of it and making you want to see it again and again. During the month of September in the year 2000, Dreamworks began to roll out "Almost Famous". It was one of those films that I just described, and one film no one could ever forget.

I've always been a fan of Cameron Crowe, and I personally don't think he's ever made a bad film (many say "Singles" is his weakest, but I rather enjoyed it a lot). During the August of 2000, buzz on "Almost Famous" began where I saw the occasional TV ad toward the end of the month but loads of print advertising and billboards from the beginning. The ads began to excite my interest, and when I heard more and more about the film I couldn't wait any longer. Finally, September came and I went opening weekend. My eyes didn't leave the screen once. Finally, when it came to an end, I could see the immense appeal of this movie. I never saw a movie that good in a long time. It really had everything and was a perfect example of what movies are about. Not that they have big stars, formulatic plots, amazing special effects, much hype or giant budgets, but that they have heart and give us not the run of the mill story, but something new and exciting. Something from deep within and much passion.

As most of you probably know, this film is actually based on a true story, it's based on Crowe's own experiences as a teenage rock journalist for the magazine "Rolling Stone". After his mom approved, Crowe toured with a few classic rock bands such as Led Zepplin. I read in an interview that he used his old notebooks for some references, and some lines in the film are actually word for word of what some people said during his adventures. I personally think it's pretty amazing of Crowe to land such a gig at such a young age. I can relate to him...somewhat.

In "Almost Famous", William Miller (newcomer Patrick Fugit who is amazing) takes the place of Crowe, an incredibly bright, sort of lonely and intelligent fifteen year old who lives in a strict household with his mom (an excellent Frances McDormand). His mom stresses the importance of education and keeps her son away from everything, she doesn't want him falling down the wrong path and getting into drugs. William also loves to write tremendously, and when William was younger, his older sister exposes him to her collection of rock music secretly. William ends up getting a gig from "Rolling Stone", who are so impressed they offer him to write a story on the up and coming band Stillwater (a fictional band that Crowe created who says is a combo of all his favorite bands). William also gets some advice from famous rock writer Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman who proves that he is one of the best character actors working today). Things kick into high gear when William is invited to go on tour with Stillwater for the article. While his mother is reluctant, she gives in and lets him go. That's when things kick into high gear, as William experiences life as a rock star first hand. While he's out to cover the music, he finds out so much more. He witnesses the romance between "band-aid" Penny Lane (Kate Hudson's award winning role) and band member Russell Hammond (a fabulous Billy Crudup). He sees the friction building between members Hammond and Jeff Bebe (a nice Jason Lee). William's eyes really begin to open.

I guess what I really like most about this film is that this film conveys what nearly all of other Crowe's film do: that life is made up of so many little moments. However, these little moments mean so much to us and are really important. They change our lives somehow someway or another, and we remember our "first times" as well as certain experiences that really open our eyes and shape us for the better. These moments may seem like nothing to us at the time, but when we look back, they really add up and make our lives.

Not only does this movie has some great, classic music but it has some excellent acting. The acting seems natural, open and honest, not forced or overdone. It's pitched perfectly. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs is sort of like a guiding force to William in a way, but with it, comes arrogance. I can't say more about Kate Hudson, who's already been awarded and showered with praise, but she's everything Penny Lane should be. Frances McDormand is honest, stern and funny as Elaine, William's mom, and I really feel Billy Crudup was robbed of an Oscar® nod or any major awards for his performance as Hammond. I've been a fan of Crudup before this movie, but he really shines through here. Patrick Fugit, in his first feature film role, is really amazing as William. William captures what I'm assuming what Crowe was when he went on tour with bands at a young age. Innocence, gaining experience and really learning about things in the world in general. All of these actors bring Crowe's script to life.

Speaking of Crowe's script, it's incredible. It's really well written and seems to really capture the 1970s. The dialogue isn't corny or stupid, like the acting, it's very natural. Some movies, I think, have dialogue that you'd think people never say, it doesn't seem natural. Here, every word out of a character's mouth is believable. While Crowe's writing has been getting attention with awards, his direction for the movie has sort of been snubbed. Many argue Crowe's a better writer than director, but I disagree. He's equal, and when he does both, his whole vision comes alive. He scored a Director's Guild nod, but not a Golden Globe nod nor an Oscar® nod sadly. I felt his direction was really underrated by most, but with a script like his I think it takes a lot to make a movie like "Almost Famous".

Despite the various awards and the mountain of critical acclaim, "Almost Famous" was sadly ignored by audiences. Dreamworks hoped to score with their "American Beauty" strategy: slowly roll the movie out in theaters. Each week for a few weeks, open in a few more theaters and by the end, it'd be all over the country. While "American Beauty" made well over a hundred million, "Almost Famous" only made a little over thirty. I found this very disappointing, because this movie has a lot of things audiences can relate to. I'm not sure why people were turned off by the movie. Still, with that said, if you missed it you can now check it out on DVD... if you're thinking about buying it, you may want to wait for the special edition, complete with a director's cut from Crowe, due out later 2001. Still, this disc for the theatrical cut is very good.

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Almost Famous" looks outstanding. Dreamworks once again delivers a fabulous transfer. Colors are well saturated and very solid. The whole look and era of the 70s is captured perfectly. A lot constantly changes and this transfer keeps up. Detail is excellent and lighting in scenes look really good. There is some slight shimmering and artifacting here and there, and some grain as well as dirt now and then, but this is one solid transfer for one solid movie.

Equally impressive is the audio. Dreamworks has provided Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes, as well as a Dolby Surround track. I was very surprised by the 5.1 mixes. Each have some great dynamic and directional range. While there is a good amount of talking in "Almost Famous", there are some very nice surrounds, particularly in the concert scenes. Check out 25:56 into the movie, it's a very nice example. Your speakers may burst during a little scene later on in the movie with electrocution, it gave me quite a jolt. The classic music really lights up all the channels nicely, and there's some nice .1 LFE to be heard. However, my edge goes to the DTS. The Dolby Digital is good, but the DTS is a lot sharper and louder. I found that the DTS got me into the movie more. English subtitles are also included.

Specs have been a bit mysterious with this disc, but Dreamworks cleaned things up a little literally a few days before at the time that I am writing this. While this DVD edition was supposed to include Crowe's longer cut of the movie, Dreamworks announced that later on in 2001 there will be a second disc and with a lot more extras. My thanks to Dreamworks for warning consumers before they go out and buy this disc. While there isn't too much here, I'm glad a worthy special edition of an excellent film will eventually happen.

The Making Of Almost Famous is yet another HBO first look, but it's not too promotional and I found it pretty watchable. Crowe discusses that the story is based on him (and we see pictures of him as a young rock journalist) and how the project started to take shape. Interviews with Fugit, composer (and Crowe's real wife) Nancy Wilson, Balk, Lee, Crudup Hudson, Paquin, McDormand, Hoffman and even "Rolling Stone" editor Jann S. Wenner are included as well as others. Clips from the film and some behind the scenes footage is shown, plus there's some footage of Fugit's audition. This is well worth a spin and a good watch.

A very nice supplement to go with the movie is The Rolling Stone Articles, where you can read seven of Crowe's articles he wrote for "Rolling Stone". They range from December 1973 to July 1979. Crowe writes about "The Allman Brothers", "Led Zepplin", "Neil Young", "Peter Frampton", "Fleetwood Mac", "Van Morrison" and "Joni Mitchell". Crowe even gives a written introduction for each one about the artists. The articles and the intros give you a good sense of what Crowe based the movie on and his life as a teenage rock journalist. You can see that Crowe writes really well for such a young age. This is a supplement that helps you get a better understanding of the background of the film, just like the Gladiator Games documentary on Dreamworks' Gladiator.

Even though Stillwater is a fictional band, the song for their hit (in the movie at least) "Fever Dog" is in a Music Video. Crowe directed this video which is basically clips from the movie (mostly concert scenes). Following the video is a Soundtrack Promo.

Some very interesting Production Notes are included on the disc and the same ones are in the keep case insert, plus some detailed Cast and Crew Bios (the menus are in true "Rolling Stone" fashion to give it a nice touch) and the Theatrical Trailer in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital, no less.

I really like the menus of the disc. They really represent the film and make it seem like an issue of "Rolling Stone", plus they are nicely animated and just give you that 70s feeling. The disc itself has a nice picture of the cast.

I hope a lot more people check out this movie on DVD and video, because this movie didn't perform so well in theaters as many had hoped. "Almost Famous" was truly one of the best movies in the year 2000. While this DVD has some great sound and a wonderful transfer, the extras are a bit disappointing. No worries though, sometime in 2001 Crowe will be putting out his own director's cut of the movie and with a lot more extras. While I have the benefit of getting free DVDs, I must say this is one movie I wouldn't mind buying twice. So the choice is yours. If you can't wait for Crowe's director's cut and want this movie now, go ahead and get it now. If you can, it should be a great second disc. If you want to buy both, go buy both. Personally, I give a big kudos to Dreamworks who were nice enough to warn us that there will be two discs. Either way, "Almost Famous" is a movie that you'll probably watch again and again, and one that deserves a place in your library.

(4.5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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