Film :: The Resurrection of Jake the Snake

Before you dismiss this as something you aren’t interested in, hear me out… If you’ve ever known someone who struggled with addiction, abuse, or self-hatred, this film is for you.

For me, the story of this film begins 15 years ago when I sat down in a movie theater to watch the much-talked-about documentary Beyond the Mat. The film followed several professional wrestlers and showed their lives – you guessed it – beyond the mat. Perhaps the most talked about subject of the film was Jake “the Snake” Roberts, a man who had been one of the most feared and respected practitioners in the business at the height of his career. When the film was made, however, Jake was deep into a heart-breaking downward spiral; a shell of a man who couldn’t hold his body, his mind, or his life together.

The Resurrection of Jake the Snake picks up 13 years later as former world champion Diamond Dallas Page and filmmaker Steve Yu respond to Jake’s cry for help to change his life. Now, changing lives is nothing new to Page who had previously helped disabled Gulf War veteran Arthur Boorman transform his body and his life through DDP’s custom yoga program (the aptly-titled DDP Yoga). So, Dallas compels his former mentor to move in with him for a course of rehab and personal training in hopes of Jake earning back the life he’s lost, including his family.


About halfway through the adventure, the “accountability crib” welcomes an additional resident, “The Bad Guy” Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramon). By some accounts, at least at the time, Hall’s state was even worse than Jake’s. With Scott’s move in, we get to see Jake transition somewhat from purely receiving to passing on a bit of the help that he has already been graced with. While I don’t want to spoil the ending, it’s easy to find yourself choked up just like the characters on the screen are as they achieve a measure of personal validation they felt would never come.

So, I have to tell you, this film is fantastically well made. Much of the filming is better than a number of the documentaries that I’ve seen (and reviewed) in recent times. Even video clips that have clearly been recorded on inferior equipment are made to look good and rarely break the flow of the film. The filmmakers welcome the cameras into their world in a way that is truly immersive without feeling staged. Better than anything, though, is the willingness of the film’s chief subjects (Roberts, Page, and Hall) to be authentic and transparent with their emotions. Throughout the film we see genuine tears of both pain and joy – aspects that these men have had to bottle for much of their professional lives.


If I had one negative reaction to the film it would have to be the wealth of explicit language. My chief concern with this is that it inherently limits the audience who will be willing to view the film. While fans of the subjects will likely have no problem with this, it could be limiting to the wider viewing public.

This was a truly unique viewing experience for me, because I’ve been watching this whole story develop via social media and YouTube over the last two years in real-time. I took note when I heard that DDP was helping Jake. I watched along with many others as Scott Hall publicly embarrassed himself by making public appearances while intoxicated. And I really took notice when Page and Jake brought Hall into their program. In fact, the changes that these men made were so remarkable that it got me up and moving again – because if Jake and Scott could do it, so can I.

All that is well and good and it makes for a fantastic film that I can’t recommend highly enough. But beyond all that, what I’ve taken away from the experience is looking more closely at the example of Dallas Page. While many of us have friends who are hurting and in need, it’s far too easy to simply say a kind word and never take any action. That wasn’t good enough for DDP. He couldn’t sit idly by and let his friends suffer the same fate as so many others had done in their industry. He laid down his own life both socially, financially, and professionally to save his friends. That’s the kind of guy I want to be.

The film had its festival premiere Friday (Jan 23) and the filmmakers are currently shopping it for distribution. We’ll update you when we have more info on when and where you can see it.

Film :: Stephanie in the Water

It will probably come as a shock to you that I’m no expert on the sport of competitive surfing. So, when I was approached with the film Stephanie in the Water, a documentary film following champion women’s surfer Stephanie Gilmore, I was intrigued by the opportunity to learn a bit more about this completely unfamiliar subculture. In fact, my knowledge of the world of skateboarding is wholly owing to the fantastic Stacey Peralta docs Dogtown and Z-Boys and Bones Brigade. I mention those because they do play a role in my evaluation of this film.

Growing up watching her Dad surf, Australian Stephanie Gilmore was never far from the water. Turning her hobby into a passion, then into a profession, she won her first world championship at the age of 17 in 2007. DirectorAva Warbrick’s film catches up with Gilmore in 2010 after she has won two additional championships.

Warbrick’s story takes a turn when Gilmore finds herself the subject of a violent attack outside of her apartment.  Physical injuries leave her sidelined for an extended period of time, but emotional trauma wears even more heavily. The confidence that marks her work for the first half of the film disappears in an instant and a bit of helplessness overtakes even the audience in watching Gilmore struggle to find her footing again.

Now it’s really not fair to compare this film to the Peralta films mentioned above, but they are really my only point of reference on a topic like this and I found myself making the comparisons continually as I watched. The biggest difference is that Peralta told really complete stories not just of the personalities but of the sport of skateboarding – where it came from and how it developed. This allowed even the unfamiliar viewer to really be enveloped in the world seen on screen. Stephanie, however, is wholly focused on a couple of years in the career of a single competitor. For that reason, it seems that the audience is a little more restricted to those who are coming in with some knowledge of the sport.

That said, it is still a great film. Interview and activity scenes of life-on-the-pro-surfing circuit are juxtaposed against the subtle beauty of wave-riding. Classic surf-vibe music plays over extended scenes of Gilmore cutting her way through the water. These scenes are almost transcendent.

One of the unexpected gems of the film is a series of scenes that give the viewer more insight into the world of surfing. These come in the form of interviews with Stephanie’s board shaper who serves in much the same role as a professional golf caddy. The relationship between the two seems both deeply professional and deeply familial. He speaks of making boards for some customers who are only that – “customers” – but that he and Stephanie have a shared history and chemistry when it comes to knowing just what she needs for any given competition.

In short, I enjoyed this film but it left me wanting more. At a mere 67 minutes, it seems like there could have been room to invite the audience into more of the world of competitive surfing. Still, the director tells a compelling story of skill, willpower, and passion and what it takes to be a champion.

Released by the great folks at BOND/360, the film is available on iTunes and you can learn more at

Film :: Kidnapped for Christ

I had not heard of the documentary Kidnapped for Christ until several weeks ago when it crossed my path twice in one day. First, a post of the trailer on Christian Nightmares, then an AMA with director Kate S. Logan on Reddit.

This film, currently showing on Showtime, is not for the faint of heart and is sure to provide ample ammunition for those at odds with a certain vein of evangelical Christianity. It is still well worth the watch – especially if you’ve seen docs like Jesus CampAmerican Jesus, of MSNBC’s “Mind Over Mania”.

The film starts innocently enough with director Kate Logan (a film student at a Christian liberal arts university) travelling to the Dominican Republic to document the work of “school for troubled teens.” With pure intentions and a healthy dose of naivete, Logan is genuinely excited to see the great work of God’s people in helping to reform the lives of these these problematic kids. It doesn’t take long before we begin to see that things aren’t all what they purport to be.

We meet David, a 17 year old boy from Colorado who has been taken to Escuela Caribe against his will. In his words, two men showed up at his home, placed a belt around his waist, and pulled him onto an airplane against his will. Hours later he found himself in the Dominican with no means of escape and constant threats of discipline should he not toe the line set out by school leaders. How could such a thing happen? Well, when his parents found out he was gay, they knew that they had to go to extreme measures to get him back on track.

David’s story is not unusual at Escuela Caribe. Other students have been sent here after getting in trouble at school or at home. Some have emotional issues, others have drug dependencies. But, of the students featured in the film, none appear to be the “hardened criminals” the director expected to find during her stay. As she becomes more aware of the reality of the situation, Logan finds herself encountering more restrictions from the school directors.

After returning to the U.S., connecting with David’s friends and letting them know the gravity of the situation, it seems that the director put her work on an indefinite hold. Fast forward about 5 years, Logan returns to her camera and offers some closure on the different storylines that she has developed throughout the film. Perhaps most important among these scenes is a trip to the first everSurvivors of Institutional Abuse conference to realize that Escuela Caribe is only one of many such programs around the world where U.S. teens are sent against their will.

The videography here isn’t great, but that shouldn’t be any surprise. A good portion of the filming is done “undercover” due to restrictions of the school. There is a noticeable jump in film quality when we fast forward to present day. One of the most unique aspects of this film – compared to other recent docs I’ve reviewed – is that the director is as much a lead character as her subjects. She moves the story along through voiceover and on-camera segments. These pieces bring an added dose of humanity to an already all-too-real story.

If you’re easily angered by injustice, bring your stress ball with you when you watch. Unfortunately, there was nothing really new here to me – but there are likely many out there who have no idea that these types of places exist. For that reason, this is a must watch.

As mentioned, Kidnapped for Christ is currently airing on Showtime and will hopefully be available for digital purchase in the near future. For more info visit

Film :: American Jesus

The history of Christianity in America has been my preferred research subject of the last few months (I’m a nerd, I know). So, when I got a message inviting me to review American Jesus, “an exploration of Christianity in every faction of American Life, from the bread line to the yoga studio, from the humble churches of snake handlers to the mega churches in the ex-urbs,” I was all-in.

When Spanish filmmaker Aram Garriga found himself wondering over the state of Christianity in the U.S., he did what any good documentarian would do – he hit the road to find out just exactly what is going on over here. From his perspective, “The main goal of the film will be triggering the debate and the questioning, from a non-judgmental perspective, on what’s the current state of American Faith and what are its real social and political implications.” And he succeeds, masterfully.

There’s so much about this film that I love, from the people, to the places, to the ideas. The first scenes take us to the Llano Estacado of west Texas and a cowboy church in Amarillo. From there we travel throughout the U.S. from Santa Cruz, CA to Washington, D.C. and a host of places in between. A lot of time is spent in my home state of TX, showcasing the wide diversity of expressions of Christianity here in our state. I was especially surprised to seeDeliverance Bible Church – which I’ve driven past 100 times – receive a lengthy feature. Childhood nostalgia is served up via Jason David Frank (aka Green Power Ranger) and his Jesus Didn’t Tap MMA apparel. And a number of impressive new names and faces round out the 25+ interviewees who tell the story of the modern Christian church in America.

The cinematography here is incredible, given the subject matter. This is not a film produced by the Christian media machine, where production quality is often on par with the local high school musical. Here we find serious filmmakers presenting their work with a highly tasteful aesthetic, utilizing quality tools, to tell an engaging story.

That story, in fact, is the star – and the chief conflict – of the film. The inevitable question is: how is it that these people (cowboys, bikers, MMA fighters, snake handlers, hippies, fundamentalists) who claim to believe in the same God, practice their faith so differently? Are they all right? (Many of them would argue that the others are not right.) Are they all wrong? Is God big enough to embrace them all? Or does he only have eyes for one particular strain of practice? And it’s here that I must remind you that we’re not talking about wildly variant theologies – these would all fit under the already tight label of Protestant Evangelical Christianity.

As a cultural study, this film is great, but it is even better at accomplishing the director’s goal of “triggering the debate and the questioning.” He is even able to meet his own goal of doing this from “a non-judgmental perspective.” No individual interviewee seems any more whacko than any other. Everyone seems equally earnest in their beliefs and honest in what they share. If the film takes a critical tone at all, it is toward the end when focusing more on interviews with pop-sociologists and authors while discussing the future. Here we sense a bit of “they can’t really believe this, can they?” snark.

The film, despite it’s excellent execution, is sure to offend a number of potential viewers. The type of folks featured in the film are not the kind to take criticism (or questioning) very lightly. Unfortunately, they are perhaps the ones most in need of seeing it. As a person who has been investigating the topic for a while, I found it to be a great addition to my research. The film is currently in limited theatrical release but you can rent or purchase it for immediate viewing on Amazon. For those interested in more information on the topic, I would highly recommend the soon-to-release book Our Great Big American God by Matthew Paul Turner. If you’re looking to go even deeper, check out The Unintended Reformation by Brad S. Gregory.

Film :: X-Men: Days of Future Past

I can’t review this film as a critic. To do so would only result in a bunch of pompous bubble-bursting. Rather, I have to approach it as a movie fan – that’s better anyway, right? As such, it was an entertaining way to spend 2 hours. (The leather recliners and other accoutrements of AMC’s Cinema Suites certainly didn’t hurt my impression of the film.)

You’re going to get what you came to see: comic book action, favorite characters, puns, inside jokes, etc. You’ll have to check your “continuity radar” at the door. That said, however, a lot of work has been done to help streamline some of the troubles that have arisen after 3 in-continuity features, 2 off-shoot prequels, and 1 not-a-reboot prequel. Perhaps that’s the beauty of a time-travel story: you have the freedom to retcon and make it believable.

Marvel Studios has worked hard to create a cohesive universe and they’ve done a great job. Fox’s X-Men films have been a lot more piecemeal, especially since X3. The Wolverine stand-alones have not fared as well as any entry from a solitary Avenger, but that’s ok. While the Avengers and X-Men live together in the same comics universe, the mutant subset has often been a bit more convoluted than their super-powered peers. That their film adaptations mirror this is only fitting.

What I love about this franchise – and this entry in particular – is that no other comic franchise has done anything like it, nor do they even have the opportunity. Bringing together characters from two time-periods in a single film is a big move, having them encounter one another is relatively unheard of. Imagine a cross-over between Nicholson’s Joker and Ledger’s Joker. There’s no scenario where that’s even possible. Here we see it (in the form of McAvoy and Stewart’s Professor X) and believe it.

So: fun movie, cool concept, good on them for working the universe back together. Here’s where my movie junky critique comes in… [SPOILERS AHEAD] this movie is The Matrix RevolutionsWolverine is TrinityProfessor Xis NeoYoung Magneto is Agent Smith. The past is the “matrix”, the future is “Zion.” Oh yeah, and THE SENTINELS ARE SENTINELS. The chosen one has to be convinced (again) of his destiny and mind-hack into the appropriate system/person to stop the inevitable decimation of the real/future civilization. Once I recognized this correlation, it really soured me on DoFP. [END SPOILERS]

Other than that, the plot here is no different than any other X-Men movie: people don’t like mutants, mutants differ on proper response, good mutants prove mutants are good by stopping bad mutants from doing bad things. There’s so much to be done here that there’s really no time for character development other than Xavier. New mutants rely on fans to know who they are and what they do. Casual viewers are going to have way more questions than answers.

When the series launched back in 2000, comic book films were very different and the X-Men universe was there for the creating. Now, with such a big universe and such high expectations, Fox might be well advised to adapt to the Marvel playbook and give us 3 stand-alones in 2 years (or maybe a smaller cast presented as X-Factor/X-Force – hey, I can dream, can’t I?) before bringing the team back together for a massive showdown. However, with a sequel already announced, there’s really no chance of that happening.

Film :: Ragamuffin

A few admissions before we start: 1) I’m a sucker for musician biopics, whether the big screen style of Walk the Line or the made for TV Temptations miniseries, 2) I like Rich Mullins – I was never a huge fan, but grew to enjoy his music after his death in 1997.

For those who don’t know, Rich Mullins was a Contemporary Christian singer/songwriter from the 80s/90s. He got his start allowing artists like Amy Grant to record his songs, some of which went on to become big hits. This earned him the opportunity to record and perform his own music touring at first with the likes of Ms. Grant and eventually on his own. The music community was stunned by the news of a car wreck that took Mullins’ life and left collaborator Mitch McVicker seriously injured. Rich was perhaps best known for his song “Awesome God”.

Ragamuffin: The True Story of Rich Mullins offers a peek behind the curtain at this legendary artist. It takes a strong cue from its subject, Mullins, and sets a new precedent for Christian film. Daringly authentic, its wealth of “damn”s in the first 5 minutes will probably turn off most church-going audiences. The cinematography, however, is so gorgeous that (but for its content) you wouldn’t even think it to be a so-called “Christian” film. Other religious filmmakers should take note of the massive effect of investing time and finances in presentation.

The film doesn’t try to gloss over Mullins’ shortcomings. As an adult, he spends much of the film drunk or hungover, smoking, cursing, or fighting his own depression. While some of the artist’s most vocal fans may be angered or turned off by this – I found it to be a quite welcomed change from the typical fare. However, pairing the darkness of the film with Mullins’ personal brokenness and anti-fundamentalist theology could mean that there may only be a small audience that will really embrace this film.

Being something of a literalist, I spent a good chunk of the film trying to figure out who certain people were – or who they were intended to represent – that is, other collaborators. But eventually the film sucked me in enough to allow for some fuzzing of identities. If I do have one beef with the storytelling, though, it is in the poor portrayal of time’s passing. Rich (as played by Mark Koch) doesn’t seem to age a day from the start of college to his death. His hairstyle may change (inexplicably) from one scene to another, but the passage of time is difficult to track. Further, Rich’s 10-year-long relationship with his one-time fiancé seems to last no more than a year on screen, but then it’s just really hard to tell.

The acting is solid, but suffers from a poorly written script. Most of the dialog comes out clunky and perhaps forced. The only exception to this seems to be the mid-concert monologues delivered by Koch. Oddly enough, these segments appear to be direct quotations from Mullins himself – many coming directly from the well-known Live in Lufkin recording made months before the artist’s death. (Scenes from this recording are featured in the closing credits). The actors, most relatively unknown, work with what they are given and craft a great narrative in-spite of the dialogue.

In the end, this movie deeply affected me, but it’s not really something that I can put into words. Rich’s story and his theology hit all the right notes at the right time to create a significant impact. Despite his situation deep within the subculture of commercial Christianity, Mullins has something to say to everyone from the most devout to the most dejected. In short, there’s something for everyone here, if you’re willing to give it a try.

The film has just completed it’s college screening tour. It is available now at Walmart and will be in Christian bookstores this summer.

Film :: Particle Fever

My relationship with particle physics begins in my childhood when some family friends moved to a little town called Waxahachie, Texas. The city was experiencing an influx of new residents and something of an economic boom due to the construction of the so-called “Superconducting Super Collider” – an underground particle accelerator – the largest of its kind at the time. As a kid, I didn’t really know what that meant, other than the fact that it supposedly threw atoms together to see what happened. And, aside from raising the ire of religious groups, I wasn’t really sure why it was so controversial.

Fast-forward 20 years and you find yourself at the start of the new documentary Particle Fever, the story of the Large Hadron Collider (“LHC”) housed far from the Dallas, TX suburbs at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The work of CERN has received widespread press over the past several years primarily because of the LHC and its search for the much-lauded, yet theoretical, Higgs particle… or, as some have called it, the “God particle.”

The story of Particle Fever follows two sets of physicists – theorists and experimentalists – over the course of several years as the LHC is brought online and the first tests are completed. The “cast” is made up of some of the most brilliant minds from around the world working on a project that some have spent decades – their entire career, in some cases – working on. As the story unfolds, we are exposed to a number of theories that can easily make one go cross-eyed and we experience the highs and lows of attempting a once-in-a-lifetime type of experiment. The process itself runs in fits and starts taking our team through moments of panic, elation, and confusion. (There is also a nice mention of the Super Collider project and what went wrong in Texas.)

But this film has so much more to tell us than simply the story of theoretical and experimental particle physics. It really speaks to two huge concepts that can affect everyone: (1) commitment to an ideal, and (2) the nature of the world.

As previously mentioned, some of these scientists have spent their entire professional lifetimes working on theories related to the discovery of the Higgs. Stanford University professor Savas Dimopoulos offers the following, “In particle physics, you have to have a threshold amount of intelligence… whatever that means. But the thing that differentiates scientists is purely an artistic ability to discern [between] what is a good idea [and] what is a beautiful idea, what is worth spending time on, and – most importantly – what is a problem that is sufficiently interesting yet sufficiently difficult that it hasn’t yet been solved BUT the time for solving it has come now.” And later he returns, “In particle physics you construct the theory 20 years ago, and it may take that long before you know if you are on the right track. Jumping from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm, that’s the big secret to success.” In a world of immediate gratification and short-term thinking, there is a lot to be taken from these scientists who are in it for the long haul.

Secondarily, it’s hard for me to approach this concept without touching on God. Theorist (and producer on the film) David Kaplan approaches the question of “Why are you doing this” in two ways, “The first answer is what we tell people, and the second answer is the truth… Answer #1: We are reproducing the conditions just after the Big Bang… so we can see what the universe was like when it just started. Answer #2: We are trying to understand the basic laws of nature.”

When you get into Big Bang terminology, you often lose the ultra-conservatives – thus the controversy spoken of when we started. However, what can’t be argued are the findings that a project like this presents. Most of us tend to go about our days living life with little thought of what we’re made of, how we’re made, or what constitutes the world around us. A large number of people are even afraid to dig too deeply for fear of not knowing/understanding what is really going on. Therefore, there is much to be said of the bravery with which these scientists approach the unknown and shed light on the detailed way in which everything has been designed.

While the content may fly above many of our heads, this film is an inspiration and a challenge that any of us can carry with us and learn from. Definitely worth checking out.

Particle Fever is now showing in NY and LA with additional theaters soon to come. See for a full list of theaters

Film Review :: Rebel Music

[Legacy Content]

Premiere Date: November 18, 2013 (mtvU)

After stumbling across a random tweet several weeks ago referencing a new documentary series entitled Rebel Music, I set off to learn more. I was able to gain access to the first two episodes of the series that will premier on mtvU next Monday.

The series describes itself as “a thought-provoking new documentary series about musicians and artists in areas of conflict” that will consist of six, thirty-minute episodes that will air over the course of five weeks (the first two episodes will premier together). The brain-child of MTV World Sr. Vice President, Nusrat Durrani, Rebel Music boasts the support of acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey (executive producer/art-director), and Academy Award Winner Ross Kaufman (Born into Brothels, consulting producer). A team of directors and cinematographers from around the world have brought Durrani’s vision to reality.

The first two episodes, Egypt and Afghanistan, took me by surprise. I was expecting to see artist profiles, hear music, and touch on a little bit of their social struggle on a personal level. What I experienced, however, were a variety of stories woven together by the contexts in which they occurred. That is to say, the social and political struggles of the countries overshadowed the individual artists. This was neither a good nor bad thing – just different than what I expected.

The Egypt episode was filmed during the height of the 2013 Revolution. Whether this was planned or a fortuitous bit of happenstance, this gave the episode a huge dose of immediacy.  The episode features rapper Karim Adel (aka Rush), singer/songwriter Ramy Essam, and Nariman El Bakry a local music promoter. We follow these protesters between their studios, performance spaces, and protests in Tahrir Square. The two sides at odds are the youth who want a greater voice in the future of their country and the adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood who are cast less as a religious sect and more as political group.

Conversely, in the Afghanistan episode, the sides at odds are more disparate – an aggressive Muslin leadership and those who would challenge their rule (or the rule of Allah). In this episode, our rebels along with their families are threatened with death for their dissent. And yet, in the midst of this, they continue to press forward. We see the heavy metal band District Unknown abandon the masks they had been utilizing to hide their identities. Sosan Firooz, the first female rapper in Afghanistan travels to California to speak at a TEDx event. And a young female documentarian purchases a bicycle (something that is only acceptable for men).

What struck me the most in each of these episodes was the artists love of their respective countries. They were not the beleaguered refugees looking for a chance to escape. They were madly in love with their homelands. In fact, Farooz laments her own homesickness in a hotel room during her visit to the U.S. saying, “I said I would never leave Afghanistan” and “I miss it like I miss my mother.”

These are the profiles that we rarely see at all, and certainly never see on the news. The filmmakers have done an incredible job in finding a connection point between the cultures (music and film) and using it to inform us in a relevant way. If I had one complaint, it would be that the two episodes felt a little formulaic in how similarly they were structured. Also, the advances that I watched had place-holders at the end for “Where are they now” footage. I would have loved to see that, but that’s just the nature of the advance screener.

Tune in to mtvU Monday nights at 9pm ET/PT between Nov. 18 and Dec. 16 to see all 6 episodes. Learn more at


Film Review :: Broadway Idiot

Release Date: October 11, 2013 (in theaters and on demand)

When I first heard about a musical based on Green Day’s Grammy Award winning, magnum opus, American Idiot, I was pretty skeptical. When I finally heard the cast recording soundtrack – I’ll be honest – I was underwhelmed. The album is so iconic that it’s hard for much of anything to measure up. Earlier this summer, however, I found my interest in the musical renewed when I learned that two artists whose work I have followed sporadically were part of the original cast: John Gallagher Jr. (HBO’s The Newsroom) and Tony Vincent (recording artist, NBC’s The Voice) playing lead characters “Johnny” and “St. Jimmy” respectively. Earlier this week when I learned of the new behind-the-scenes documentary Broadway Idiot I found my chance to finally get a look at what this whole thing was all about.

In general, I think that stage theater is under-exposed. Down here in Texas, it’s mostly unheard of but for the local high school production of The Music Man. So, for the uninitiated, it should be noted that the pop music theater musical is something that has been growing in popularity. In recent years Mamma Mia (music of ABBA), Jersey Boys (Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons), and We Will Rock You (Queen) have all graced the stage. All that to say, the concept in and of itself wasn’t completely original – thought it may have garnered more public awareness on the back of a Grammy Awards performance featuring Green Day and the cast.

Broadway Idiot takes us not just behind the scenes, but deep into the inner workings of the theater. We hear songs as the arrangements are being written and we learn why certain creative choices are made. We see the actors learning their parts and creating their characters. We sit down with the director, the choreographer, the music director, and the author himself, Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day. While we don’t witness the entire performance of American Idiot, we see enough to understand the story and gain a new found respect for the creative process and the end result.

The high points of the film, in my mind, center on the development of the musical numbers. The stage show contains the entirety of the American Idiot album, as well as a large portion of Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown record. While the cast performs with much gusto, the vocals still lack the brilliance of their source material. The best moments, though, are when songs are brilliantly re-imagined such as the Beach Boys-inspired take on “Last Night on Earth”.

Director Doug Hamilton also takes us back in time to learn more about Billy Joe’s history with theater and singing lessons as a child. We’re also able to experience a certain sense of catharsis as Armstrong hears his own material afresh and realizes how much more there is to it. In a pivotal moment, he states that the best thing about the musical is that is a source of affirmation and validation of his songwriting – something that isn’t talked about a whole lot in rock music.

If the film is lacking in anything, it is its engagement with the cast. While actors names do flash on screen and several one or two sentence statements are made by the actors, they are surprisingly silent in the story-telling element. This was particularly disappointing to me given the fact that there is so much fertile ground including actors making their Broadway debuts, or the simple fact of working with an artist like Green Day. In the director’s defense, he does present the movie as “following Billy Joe Armstrong’s journey from punk rock to Broadway.” That goal is certainly accomplished.