Review: ‘Oasis: Supersonic’ is a wildly entertaining blast of bombast

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Here’s my Film Stage review of SUPERSONIC, which screened in Buffalo and across the nation on October 26.

Oliver Stone. That’s the filmmaker who should have been asked to chronicle the career of Oasis, the hugely successful, ever-combustible, now-departed kings of Britpop. Looking at the entirety of the band’s lifespan — from the early 1990s to break-up in 2008 — it’s hard not to notice the trademarks of Doors-era Stone: controversies, fisticuffs, conspiracies, bravery, insanity, ego, vulnerability, lust, and violence. In rock and roll, these are positives, and the joys that emanate from such feelings and behavior is certainly on display in Oasis: Supersonic, a Noel and Liam Gallagher-approved documentary. The band’s career, however, is not really the subject of the new documentary directed by Mat Whitecross and from the producers of Amy, Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse documentary. Instead, Supersonic is about the rise of the band, the period from birth to its two concerts (to 250,000 attendees) at Knebworth.

And that’s fine, since Supersonic is a wildly entertaining blast of energy and bombast. There are few successes in music history quite like the one-two punch of Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, and the film’s mix of interviews, videos, concert scenes, and unseen footage is, in a word, stunning. Even die-hard Oasis fans will be floored by scenes of the band’s first concert with Noel Gallagher, at Scotland’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in 1993. (Not to mention video from the band’s infamous Whisky A Go Go bust-up in 1994, as well as a rehearsal room performance of “All Around the World” from the early 90s.)

Told mostly in chronological order after opening with the band’s epic Knebworth concerts (minus a few time jumps), Supersonic moves from the Gallagher brothers’ youthful antics to the start of Oasis, signing by Creation Records, the remarkable successes of Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory, and… that’s it. The Knebworth gigs surely represent the apex of Oasis’s popularity, but hitting the brakes here may disappoint the band’s most hardcore fans. Those hoping for tales of the 2007 bust-up that killed the band must look elsewhere. Newer fans and those with only a modest interest in Oasis are likely to walk away a bit more impressed by the film, and what the Gallaghers accomplished. As Noel puts it in the film, “I don’t think anybody will ever be able to fully explain to people, who are maybe like teenagers now, what a colossal thing Oasis was in the lives of anybody who gave a shit about music,” Gallagher said.

Indeed, Supersonic does a fine job of showing just how large-scale the phenomenon was: countless concert scenes, lots of snappin’ paparazzi, and some stunningly nasty put-downs from Noel to “has-beens” like the late Michael Hutchence. More intriguing are the photos and stories from Noel and Liam’s childhood in the Manchester suburb of Burnage. The unsung hero of these early scenes is surely mom Peggie Gallagher, a hard-working, loving figure forced to hold down several jobs. Her husband was physically abusive, and the scenes described by Peggie, Noel, Liam, and third brother Paul are harrowing. Psychologically, we learn much about the brothers’ Gallagher here, and the reappearance of their father at the height of the band’s popularity is both sad and expected.

The opposite is true of, well, much of the film. There are moments of (sometimes surreal) humor, specifically an animated re-creation of a drunken ferry ride to Amsterdam, some studio hijinks during the making of Morning Glory, and Noel’s admission that Liam oozed the rock-star charisma that he [Noel] did not: “He had a great haircut, a great walk.” Noel, in particular, comes across as the most thoughtful member of the band. (Sorry, Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs and Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan; only the former agreed to be interviewed for Supersonic.) The most startling example might be his memories of writing the song “Supersonic” during the time it took for the other members of the band to eat some take-out food. Liam Gallagher’s starpower remains undeniable; whether messing about at the Definitely Maybe cover shoot or pontificating poolside in Japan, it’s clear his magnetism was as important to Oasis’s success as the hooks of “Live Forever” and “Wonderwall.”

Supersonic truly blasts off after Definitely Maybe drops, and the band is hurtled toward international popularity. The film ends with 1996’s Knebworth concerts, and this means we never see the drug-fueled excess of Be Here Now, not to mention the fascinating place Oasis found themselves in after the tide turned against that record. It’s understandable that Whitecross chose Knebworth as an ending point, since the band never again commanded the attention of the zeitgeist on that scale. It takes for granted that we all know what happened from then on — as Liam puts it late in the film, “We were never gonna do ten rounds” — but leaves us wanting more. Perhaps that’s what every music documentary should aspire to.

Yet as a longtime Oasis fan, it’s hard not to see Supersonic as something of a missed opportunity. There are some surprisingly notable omissions. The band’s influences — The Beatles (of course), The Smiths, The Stone Roses — are barely acknowledged. (We do hear a Stone Roses tune in the background of an early scene; interestingly, Whitecross previously directed the 2012 ensemble comedy Spike Island, which used the Roses’ famous concert as its backdrop.) The controversial 1996 MTV Unplugged performance, which saw Liam drop out due to vocal issues, is unmentioned, an odd choice considering the major headlines it caused. Also missing is the band’s 1996 MTV Video Music Awards performance of “Champagne Supernova,” notable for Liam’s slow gob at song’s end. “Britpop” and “Cool Britannia” are never uttered. But most noteworthy is the film’s failure to include the infamous “Blur vs. Oasis” battle of summer 1995. The simultaneous release of Blur’s “Country House” and Oasis’s “Roll With It” was the starting point for the 2003 Britpop documentary Live Forever, so this ground has indeed been covered on film. Still, the band’s “loss” to Blur, followed by a gargantuan victory on the album charts, is an undeniably important moment in the group’s history, and U.K. music in general.

Interestingly, Whitecross chooses to use only voice-over; we never seen the Noel and Liam (not to mention Bonehead or Guigsy) of today. It’s a surprising move, as watching the brothers speak is often more interesting than what they actually say. There’s also a surplus amount of concert footage. (My friend Anthony Chabala, a longtime expert regarding the instruments used by the band, considers Supersonic a concert film with biographical embellishments.) Even with these minor quibbles, we’re left with a film that is undeniably strong, and never less that hugely entertaining. The only logical criticisms, in fact, relate to what’s left out. There is still a great, epic, full account of the Oasis story to be told. In the meantime, we have Supersonic, a reminder of a time when two brothers born in poverty and bred on Beatles took over the world. It didn’t last long, but it was one helluva ride. Above all else, Supersonic captures that feeling.

Oasis: Supersonic screens for one night only on Wednesday, October 26.

 

Preview: The Oasis documentary, ‘Supersonic,’ screens on Oct. 26

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The Oasis documentary Supersonic was a late addition to my October Coming Attractions column for Buffalo Spree. My write-up is below, and watch this space for my Film Stage review of the film.

Oasis—Supersonic: A documentary about Noel and Liam Gallagher’s Oasis, the battling Britpop supernovas behind “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova,” from the producers of Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse doc Amy? Yes, please. A24 is releasing Supersonic in America, and the distributor has scheduled one-night-only screenings for October 26 nationwide. Whether you love the Gallaghers or not, watch the trailer at supersonic-movie.com and tell me you’re not intrigued. This could turn out to be one of the most entertaining documentaries of 2016. (7 p.m. on October 26 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

October Coming Attractions: Celebrate ten years of the Buffalo International Film Festival, and prepare for Halloween with The Shining

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Check out my ‘Coming Attractions’ column from the October 2016 Buffalo Spree.

October features some cinematic kingpins—Fellini, Kubrick, the Marx Brothers—but it’s highlighted by the tenth installment of one of Western New York’s strongest film festivals. 

Buffalo International Film Festival: Last year was a thrilling one for the Buffalo International Film Festival (BIFF), highlighted by a screening of Emelie, Michael Thelin’s well-reviewed thriller. The 2016 fest is set for October 7 through 10, and for the first time in the festival’s ten-year history, every entry will be screened in a venue located in the City of Buffalo. The opening night centerpiece at the North Park will be Tyler Hubby’s new feature documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present. That’s huge, especially for the late artist and UB professor’s legions of local fans. The lineup includes numerous interesting films, so peruse the entire lineup and find times and locations at buffalointernationalfilmfestival.com(October 7 to 11; buffalointernationalfilmfestival.com)

Buffalo Film Seminars: Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian open October with three heavy hitters: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, October 4), Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita, October 11), and Orson Welles (Chimes at Midnight, October 18). Still, the most intriguing pick of the month might be Sarah Elder and Leonard Kamerling’s 1977 documentary Drums of Winter, which screens on October 25. The hugely acclaimed, award-winning film about the Yup’ik people of central Alaska is listed in the Film Preservation Registry by the Library of Congress. And there’s a wonderful local link here, since Elder is a media study professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. (7 p.m. at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; csac.buffalo.edu/bfs.html)

Oasis—Supersonic: A documentary about Noel and Liam Gallagher’s Oasis, the battling Britpop supernovas behind “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova,” from the producers of Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse doc Amy? Yes, please. A24 is releasing Supersonic in America, and the distributor has scheduled one-night-only screenings for October 26 nationwide. Whether you love the Gallaghers or not, watch the trailer at supersonic-movie.com and tell me you’re not intrigued. This could turn out to be one of the most entertaining documentaries of 2016. (7 p.m. on October 26 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St. ;dipsontheatres.com)

TCM Big Screen Classics—The ShiningHave you watched the documentary Room 237? If not, get on that. (I’ll wait.) The exploration of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and its many (probably incorrect) interpretations is utterly mind-melting. It also reminds us that Kubrick’s film is far more than a scary Stephen King adaptation with an unhinged Jack Nicholson screaming, “Here’s Johnny!” Instead, The Shining is one of the most complex, influential movies ever made. But it is scary, as well, so kudos to the TCM Big Screen series for making the film its October selection, just in time for Halloween. (2 and 7 p.m. on October 23 and 26 at the Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com)

Fredonia Opera House: Arthur Miller and the Marx Brothers have genius in common, and two of their finest works grace the Fredonia Opera House screen in October. First is a simulcast of Miller’s View From the Bridgeat 1 p.m. on October 1. This 2016 Tony winner for Best Revival of a Play stars the always stellar Mark Strong. Meanwhile, on October 7, the Opera House screens the classic Marx Brothers’ comedy Duck Soup at 7:30 p.m. The screening is part of Fredonia State College’s annual “Freedonia Marxonia Festival.” And in a nice touch, admission is “Free.” (Fredonia Opera House, 9 Church St., Fredonia; fredopera.org)

Roycroft Film Society—About Elly: Anyone who’s seen Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation and The Past will likely agree that the Iranian filmmaker ranks near the top of international cinema’s best. His latest effort, The Salesman, earned him Best Screenplay honors after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May. That one will be released soon, but this month the Roycroft Film Society offers a chance to catch 2009’s About Elly. The story of the mysterious disappearance of a kindergarten teacher is considered one of Farhadi’s greatest works, and that’s saying something. (4 p.m. on October 9 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora; roycroftcampuscorp.com)

Nichols High School Movie Night at the North Park: The students at Nichols have darn good taste in cinema, as evidenced by this stellar series. The lineup features Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman and Charlie Chaplin’s The Bank on October 2; Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby on October 17; Hitchcock’s bold, experimental Rope on October 24; and King Kong on October 31. (The Cameraman/The Bank: 11:30 a.m. on October 2, all others at 7 p.m. on October 17, 24, and 31, at the North Park Theatre, 1428 Hertel Ave.; northparktheatre.org)

North Park Theatre: In addition to the aforementioned Nichols’ screenings the North Park’s October lineup includes the George Hamilton-starring indie Silver Skies at 7 p.m. on October 4 and a tenth anniversary presentation of Mike Judge’s prescient satire Idiocracy at 9:45 p.m. the same night. (Both will feature live satellite Q-and-As.) The silent horror classic Nosferatu is scheduled for 7 p.m. on October 12, and will feature a live score by the Invincible Czars. (North Park Theatre, 1428 Hertel Ave.; northparktheatre.org)

riverrun Global Film Series: Iran is the “Country in Focus” for this free three-day presentation of films and lectures. The series will include a short film from late Taste of Cherry director Abbas Kiarostami, as well as Bahram Beyzaie’s recently restored 1972 drama Downpour. Also scheduled is Notes on Blindness, a project with both a documentary and a virtual reality component. (Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, 1300 Elmwood Ave.; globalfilmseries.wordpress.com)

Burchfield Penney Art Center: In addition to the riverrun Global Film Series mentioned above, BPAC has October screenings of the documentary All the Difference, a film exploring issues related to African-American manhood, and Korey Green’s Buffalo-set (and shot) gangster film The Romans(Difference: 7 p.m. on October 13; Romans: 7 p.m. on Oct. 20; 1300 Elmwood Ave.; burchfieldpenney.org)

Thursday Night Terrors—Fright Night: This great new horror film series continues in October with 1985’sFright Night, Tom Holland’s thrilling and funny vampire tale. Ignore the so-so Colin Farrell-starring 2011 remake, and instead head to the Dipson Amherst. (7:30 p.m. on October 27 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.; facebook.com/thursdaynightterrors)

Cultivate Cinema Circle: The fall CCC season includes a focus on Robert Altman, and for October, that means a screening of his underrated ensemble piece A Wedding. Also planned is Audrie & Daisy, a documentary about sexual assault that garnered high praise at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. (A Wedding: 7 p.m. on October 6 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.; Audrie & Daisy: 7 p.m. on October 12 at Burning Books, 420 Connecticut St.; cultivatecinemacircle.com)

Rocky Horror Picture Party: It wouldn’t be Halloween month without a screening of cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This event is an annual Rivera Theatre favorite. (9:30 p.m. on October 28 at the Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., N. Tonawanda; rivieratheatre.org)

Call Her Applebroog: Artist Ida Applebroog’s daughter, filmmaker Beth B., directed this personal portrait of the provocative painter. (7 p.m. on October 12 at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 341 Delaware Ave.; hallwalls.org)

Old Chestnut Film Society—The Lady EveThe films of Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb are the focus for the latest installment of the long-running Old Chestnut Film Society series. December’s selection is a goodie, as The Lady Eve is one of Preston Sturgess’s finest comedies. (7:30 p.m. on December 9 in the Community Room of the Phillip Sheridan School, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore; oldchestnut.com)

The Screening Room: Amherst’s Screening Room has so much happening this month that I barely know where to begin; remember to visit screeningroom.net for the full listing. Halloween-centric highlights include the John Landis horror favorite An American Werewolf in London on October 7, 8, 11, 14, and 15; Mel Brooks’sYoung Frankenstein, starring the late Gene Wilder, on October 22, 25, and 28; Mario Bava’s cult classicHatchet for the Honeymoon on October 22; John Carpenter’s original Halloween on October 27, 29, and 31; local filmmaker Greg Lamberson’s Killer Rack on October 28 and 29; a double bill of Vincent Price-starrer The House on Haunted Hill and Ed Wood’s needs-no-introduction Plan 9 From Outer Space on October 30; and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead on October 31. (Check website for times; 3131 Sheridan Dr., Amherst; screeningroom.net)

Also screening this month …

  • The Dipson Amherst Theatre has two opera simulcasts scheduled this month: Samson et Dalila on October 13 and Macbeth on October 20. (Samson: 8 p.m. on October 13; Macbeth: 8 p.m. on October 20; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)
  • Sherlock Holmes joins Sherlock Holmes, in a way, when Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Elementary’s Jonny Lee Miller appear in a screening of the National Theatre adaptation of Frankenstein on October 25. Trainspotting and Steve Jobs director Danny Boyle helmed the acclaimed production. (7 p.m. on October 25 at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com)
  • Outside of Buffalo, there are two unique October film festivals worth a drive. ImageOut, Rochester’s LGBT film festival, is set for October 6 to 16 (imageout.org). And the Toronto After Dark Film Festival offers nine days of horror and sci-fi from October 13 to 21 (torontoafterdark.com).