Levan Tsikurishvili spent four years behind the scenes shooting “Avicii: True Stories,” a documentary about Swedish DJ/producer Avicii (née Tim Bergling) —detailing his meteoric rise to fame as well as his ups and downs: struggles with his mental and physical health and aggressive management. When the film was released in Scandinavia in October 2017, it offered a triumphant message of hope, the end featuring Bergling on a beach, freed from his punishing touring schedule.
In April 2018, the 28 year-old Bergling committed suicide. And yet, the hopeful text at the end of the film hitting U.S. theaters and Netflix this month remains the same, without acknowledging his death. It suspends Bergling in amber, encased in a time capsule. It’s the director’s choice to do so, though it feels a bit disingenuous, particularly because it is so revealing about Bergling’s mental health issues.
“Avicii: True Stories,” feels a lot like “Amy,” Asif Kapadia’s documentary about Amy Winehouse, in that it follows a singular talent who attained fame and fortune at a young age, and was pushed into a brutal schedule by overzealous, money-hungry managers while struggling with substance abuse. Bergling’s former manager Arash Pournouri is positioned as the villain, pressuring the young, sensitive Swede to self-medicate and perform, even when hospitalized with pancreatitis.
There’s a sense of dread as the film wraps up, knowing where the real-life story ended, and it’s increasingly out of step with the rosy picture painted by Tsikurishvili. Is he compelled to update the film or leave us with an image of Bergling in his freest moment? Ultimately, it feels like only part of the story, and therefore not entirely true.
— Katie Walsh
‘Avicii: True Stories’
In English and Swedish with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 14, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; available Dec. 28 on Netflix
‘The Second Time Around’
In “The Second Time Around” opera-loving widow Katherine (Linda Thorson) meets cranky widower and Holocaust survivor Isaac (Stuart Margolin) at the assisted-living facility where Katherine lands for rehab after breaking her hip. That they fall for each other isn’t the only predictable thing about this gentle and well-intentioned but too gingerly-paced romantic drama.
The lovely Thorson, a veteran Canadian actress perhaps best known in the U.S. as Diana Rigg’s replacement on the 1960s series “The Avengers,” and longtime character actor Margolin, a staple on 1960s and ’70s TV (“Love, American Style,” “The Rockford Files”), work well together as unlikely lovers who realize they need to find independence in their older age: Katherine from her distracted daughter (Laura de Carteret, in a thankless role); ex-tailor Isaac from the retirement home he’s been living in the past few years.
Katherine and Isaac’s trajectory — from dining-room table mates to friends to bed partners — proves credible and occasionally poignant; they’re good people and we root for them. There’s also a nice use of largely familiar opera music.
Unfortunately the film, directed by Leon Marr (script by Marr and Sherry Soules) needs more pep in its step, could use some judicious trimming and, save for the chatty, wheelchair-using Charlie (Louis Del Grande), features an unmemorable, under-drawn group of resident seniors, a missed opportunity to help flesh out — and lighten up — this slender, tender tale.
‘The Second Time Around’
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.
Playing: Starts Dec. 14, Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino
While fully supporting soldiers and Marines in their struggles, “Unknown Distance” isn’t afraid to criticize the U.S. military and its treatment of its troops — both in the combat zone and especially once they’ve returned home. The documentary takes a clear stance, condemning the American government for its lack of concern for veterans after they’ve served their country.
Director Gordon Clark focuses on Sgt. Douglas Brown, a Marine sniper who enlisted after the attacks on 9/11. His decade of service as a trained killer has left him plagued by PTSD and unable to find his place when he tried to return to the everyday life of the United States. Brown travels across the country, talking to other men who are unsure of who they are and what they can do in this now-unfamiliar nation. “Unknown Distance” also highlights his enduring friendship with his Afghan translator, for whom Brown vouched for to live in the U.S.
Clark’s previous work in photography and music videos makes “Unknown Distance” a documentary that generally works visually as well as emotionally, even if the narrative thread isn’t always there. Not every stylistic choice works, with some moments distracting from the film’s message and occasional shots that don’t feel organic. But Brown’s journey remains compelling and absolutely necessary for the audience to see, as do the stories of his fellow veterans.
— Kimber Myers
Running time: 1 hour, 13 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 14, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica
The Brooklyn of the indie drama “Woven” is presented as a small town, but one that’s overwhelmed by the multitude of connections between its characters. Writers Ryan Spahn, Salome Mulugeta and Kristin Hanggi offer a much-needed look at an Ethiopian community that’s rarely seen on American screens, but they muddy their story with a narrative teeming with too many ideas and coincidences.
Elenie (co-writer and co-director Mulugeta) is trying to balance her traditional Ethiopian upbringing by her mother (Alemtsehay Wedajo) with her current American lifestyle when a family tragedy upends her life. Meanwhile, Elenie connects with young Charley (Vincent Agnello) and his dad Logan (Ryan O'Nan), who have struggles of their own.
Co-directed by Nagwa Ibrahim, “Woven” deals sensitively with its themes of grief and forgiveness. Though its script lacks moments that bring cohesion to its characters and timeline, Elenie remains a woman whom audiences can empathize with.
— Kimber Myers
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 14, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood