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posted: 7/4/2013 5:30 AM

'Bartender' doc mixes right ingredients

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  • Steve Schneider, a former U.S. Marine, reinvented himself as a drink-mixing rock star in the documentary "Hey Bartender."

      Steve Schneider, a former U.S. Marine, reinvented himself as a drink-mixing rock star in the documentary "Hey Bartender."

  • Video: Jim Rash/Nat Faxon at Oscars

  • Video: "Hey Bartender" trailer

 
 

Mini-review: 'Hey Bartender'

As someone whose younger brother died an alcoholic at 47, I am probably more sensitive about movies pushing booze than most filmgoers might be.

The documentary "Hey Bartender" doesn't push the product so much as it celebrates the people who create and treat alcoholic concoctions as works of art, mixed in with a few jiggers of showmanship, psychology and listening.

For a cocktail documentary backed by a major independent distillery, "Hey Bartender" never devolves into the pro-drinking propaganda you might imagine.

Writer/director Douglas Tirola -- with support from the family-owned distillery William Grant & Sons -- blends a lot of subjects into his factual concoction of history and personality profiles.

Tirola traces the story of the mixed cocktail from its modest beginnings in America, through Prohibition (when the nation's greatest bartenders fled to other countries), to its current status as a social/cultural subculture.

Most subcultures operate from an epicenter, and "Hey Bartender" points to New York's hot "Employees Only" bar as the gold standard of cocktail havens.

Tirola also introduces the key characters on the cocktail stage, among them Steve Schneider, a former U.S. Marine who survived a near-fatal street beating to become a cocktail rock star. (We're told the unofficial ranking goes: Mixologist, Bartender, then Rockstar.) "Hey Bartender" is all over the place in terms of jumping from one person and topic to the next. Pretentious slow-motion footage of mixologists plying their craft adds nothing to the movie but additional running time. (Plus, bartenders don't really look that good in slo-mo.)

At least Tirola tosses in a quick snippet of Tom Cruise's 1988 bartender fantasy "Cocktail," written by Heywood Gould, who's actually included in this doc.

At the Music Box Theatre. Not rated, but includes swearing. 92 minutes. ★ ★ ★

Film notes

• Join the Chicago Film Critics Association when we present Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier's 1992 espionage thriller "Sneakers" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 10, as part of our Film With a View series at Studio Movie Grill, 301 Rice Lake Square, Wheaton. Tickets cost $1. Plus, CFCA member Matt Sheehan of Hollywoodsnitch.com will introduce the movie. Stick around for a post-show discussion. I rated "Sneakers" ★ ★ ★.

• The After Hours Film Society presents Alice Winocour's "Augustine," the story of an illiterate teenage kitchen maid (singer/actress Soko) subjected to treatments for "hysteria" by a doctor (Vincent Lindon) who crosses a few ethical lines. It's at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 8, at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. General admission costs $9. afterhoursfilmsociety.com.

• Helen Mirren's Queen Elizabeth II in the West End production of "The Audience" proved so popular at Chicago's Music Box Theatre that a third live broadcast of the play has been added for Chicagoans to see.

"The Audience" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 16. (The July 3 showing sold out.) Tickets cost $18 at the door; $15 advance. Go to musicboxtheatre.com/events/NT-Live-The-Audience.

Those 'Way Back' guys

Jim Rash and Nat Faxon are Oscar-winning screenwriters (with director Alexander Payne) for my top movie of 2011, "The Descendants." Now they're sharing the director's chair in the nostalgic coming-of-age drama "The Way, Way Back." They sat down with me at Chicago's Waldorf Astoria Hotel for a brief chat:

Q. Mr. Rash, at the Oscars, you famously mocked Angelina Jolie's prominently exposed leg. Has she ever contacted you about that?

JR. No. I just have a feeling that she doesn't know who that bald, bespectacled man was, or even care. No, never anything from her.

Q. Can you discuss the role that nostalgia plays in "The Way, Way Back," even though it's not really a period movie?

NF. We wanted to give the film a timeless appeal. We talked about John Hughes. We talked about movies we grew up on. We've got old cars in the movie, but also an occasional iPod. The music spans all over the years, new and old. I think everyone can relate to the moment when they share a rite of passage. That's what we wanted.

Q. Has a career in writing turned out to be everything you hoped?

NF. So far, so good. I moved to L.A. right after college. I bartended for three years. I got on a show that didn't make it, but I got a lot of commercial work. That went on for 10 years, making a living, but not at the level I imagined. Then, Jim and I started working together and things started to happen. Had I had early success, I don't know that I would have appreciated where I am today.

Q. Mr. Faxon, what's the best part about working with this guy?

JR. You better think of something quick!

NF. He puts up with my neurotic natures and my tendency to obsess over things. He knows when I need some time for myself.

Q. That sounds like a marriage.

NF. Very close.

Q. Same question to you, Mr. Rash.

JR. He is an incredibly smart, brilliant, creative person who I get to latch on to.

Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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