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Capone Art-House Round-Up with the Oscar-nominated NO, the great music doc DON'T STOP BELIEVIN': EVERYMAN'S JOURNEY, and Nick Offerman in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

The latest film from director Pablo Larrain (POST MORTEM) is either the greatest film about the power advertising campaigns can have on national events (the nation in question being Chile, circa 1988) or it's a movie about how people will believe anything they see on television—even the ads. Or maybe it's about both. One of the five Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language Film contenders, NO is the true-life story of Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet's campaign to have his rule extended an additional eight years, with the simplest vote in history. The nation was charged with voting Yes or No to his continued rule.

The always electric Gael Garcia Bernal plays Rene Saavedra, an up-and-coming ad exec who, against the wishes of his conservative boss, is hired to run the NO ad campaign on behalf of those opposed to Pinochet's rule. Before long Saavedra and his team are helping to shore up the candidate's policies and public image while systematically tearing down the present government at great personal risk to themselves. It's a fascinating story of a team of people with almost no money slowly building up a head of political steam to set the people of Chile free and possibly topple a dictatorship using modern advertising practices, peppered with a bit of misinformation.

NO uses a great deal of actual news footage of those involved in the campaign and their actual ads, as well as marches and demonstrations. So as not to be constantly jumping back and forth between video and film, Larrain opted to make the whole movie look like it was shot on video, resulting in an extraordinary immediacy to the proceedings. Some of what the ad team comes up with is hilarious and ridiculous, but there's no denying that their tactics worked (sorry to spoil; read a newspaper). And there's definitely a sense that even those who ran this effort were shocked at the results of the NO campaign. The film has a great, low-level sense of tension in nearly every frame, and it's far more exciting and engaging than you probably believe a film about a political campaign could be.

I remember maybe three or four years ago, flipping through music video channels and stumbling upon a recent Journey concert shot in Manilla. The singer, who I'd never seen or heard before, sounded so much like one-time Journey front man Steve Perry that I couldn't stop watching just to see if he could keep up that level of singing. He did. I knew nothing about singer Arnel Pineda at the time, but it became apparent that the Filipino singer was performing this particular concert in front of a hometown crowd, so I did a little digging and discovered an extraordinary story, one that is chronicled in the documentary DON'T STOP BELIEVIN': EVERYMAN'S JOURNEY from director Ramona S. Diaz, who made a doc about Imelda Marcos not long ago.

The film captures Pineda at a time when the shock still hasn't worn off. He spent the entire first year with the band thinking he was auditioning, although the band considered him their new full-time singer, after founding member and lead guitarist Neal Schon found Pineda on YouTube singing note-perfect Journey covers, as well as equally flawless renditions of songs by other rock bands, ranging from Led Zeppelin to Boston to The Police. For Pineda, just singing with one of his favorite bands only a few times would have been enough to fulfill that dream, but to be a contributing member of the band was almost more than he could handle mentally. We see the pressures of life on the road and the impact that had on Pineda's voice and psyche.

But DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' isn't just about Pineda; it's about the band's history as well (almost equally). The film chronicles Perry's departure, a brief reunion, a tour that never happened, a new singer before Pineda who had to leave the band when his voice simply couldn't hold up; and how Journey is back to being as popular and in demand now as it was when Perry was the singer. Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain are fascinating to listen to as they put the band's history under a microscope and admit their failures as well as successes. It's also fascinating to listen to Pineda and the other band members discuss Perry's unique vocal stylings and how nearly impossible they are for one singer to duplicate or approximate.

What I found most interesting is the way the band worked with Pineda and incorporated him into the group. Cain acts as Pineda's vocal coach, working him through scales and other vocal exercises to get him used to singing as intensely as he must for a full concert. I loved seeing footage of Pineda's first performance with Journey (in Chile, I believe), during which he ran all over the stage, nearly making himself so winded that he couldn't sing the songs. The band's tour manager told him that Journey wasn't about running all over the place on stage; Pineda ignored that bit of wisdom and remains quite active during shows.

DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' isn't meant to mirror an episode of "Behind the Music," although it does get into Pineda's history with substance abuse back when he was a struggling artist. What it actually does is show how Pineda being brought into Journey suddenly made the band an international act, selling out venues larger than they had ever played before, thanks in large part to an entirely new global audience. As one Filipino-American fan puts it, "When you brought Arnel into the band, you didn't know you were adopting a nation, did you?" It's hard not to be inspired by Pineda's story as well as his energy and enthusiasm for his work, which has clearly re-inspired his band mates. DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' isn't about whether Journey is relevant or whether you think they're any good. It's about those rare moments in history when the dream becomes the reality, and how people cope with getting what they wish for.

Normally films that are quirky just for quirkiness sake annoying the piss out of me. Thankfully, that brand of film doesn't really exist in large doses any longer (if it ever really did). But at last year's SXSW Film Festival I caught a truly quirky film that had me alternating between smiling and laughing in no small doses. From director Bob Byington (HARMONY & ME) comes SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME, the life story of Max (Keith Poulson of THE COLOR WHEEL), a steak house waiter who becomes a successful owner of a franchise of Pizza and Ice Cream stores, along with his fellow waiter Sal (Nick Offerman of "Parks and Recreation," who also produced the film). The film actually covers about 35 years of their lives, although most of the characters look like they age about 10 years during the course of the movie.

When the film opens, Max stumbles upon his ex-wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) sleeping with another man. He's attempted to stay friends with her, but clearly that isn't going well. Somehow the incident compels him to ask out Lyla (Jess Weixler from TEETH), who also works in the restaurant and whose police officer father (Marshall Bell) can't stand Max. Max and Lyla eventually get married and have a weird son, who is one of the only characters in the film whose ago seems to change appropriately (in each time jump, the kid is played by a different actor); the other way time is marked is by Offerman's facial hair, which alternates from full beard to mustache to goatee with shades of gray as time passes. Max is distracted by his son's pretty nanny, Clarissa (Stephanie Hunt), while Lyla seems drawn to Sal. You can probably guess where those plot points are headed.

But what sets SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME apart from the pack is its dry wit, likable cast and stark visual style. Offerman is especially funny in ways that are both different and similar to what he does on "Parks and Rec." It certainly shows a range in Offerman's acting that hasn't been seen in a while, and the man is genuinely funny. The film loses a bit of its focus and drive in its final act, but since it has a running time of about 75 minutes, it's not like you'll have to suffer through any part of whatever you might find lacking.

The film is wavers between organically bizarre to a feeling of forced weirdness, but most of it is pretty humorous and entertaining. Add on a nice score from Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio and some pleasant animated interludes from WAKING LIFE and A SCANNER DARKLY animator Bob Sabiston, and SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME is a pleasant enough way to spend a short time in the movie theater. There are far better movies out there, to be sure, but sometimes a simple, entertaining distraction gets the job done.

As an added bonus for those living in Chicago, Nick Offerman will do Q&As after four screenings of SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME at the Music Box Theatre—Friday, March 8 at 7:30 and 9:45pm and Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 and 9:45pm.

-- Steve Prokopy
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