Combustible Celluloid
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With: Arnel Pineda, Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory, Deen Castronovo
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Ramona S. Diaz
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Language: English, some Filipino, with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 08/19/2013

Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Journey's Evolution

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The idea of a rock band hiring a cover artist to replace a lost lead singer isn't exactly a new one, but the story of Arnel Pineda becoming the new frontman for Journey is surprisingly joyous and touching in many ways.

Pineda grew up in Manila, a poor kid on the streets. He began performing in a Journey cover band, became involved in sex and drugs, suffered a few broken hearts, and wondered when his ship was going to come in.

That ship arrived when Journey guitarist Neal Schon went looking on YouTube for a new lead singer. Steve Perry had quit the band after the 1996 Trial by Fire album, and Perry's initial replacement Steve Augeri began having problems with his voice in 2006.

As every car and shower singer knows, Perry's voice is astoundingly difficult to imitate. The guy has an amazing set of pipes, but so does Pineda. Pineda nervously auditioned for his heroes, and got the job.

Frankly, there's not a lot of drama in Ramona S. Diaz's new documentary about Pineda. He makes a small, initial error when he spends too much time running and jumping around the stage in an early show -- the band manager scolds him -- and he develops a cold at one point during the tour, but everything works out all right.

However, Pineda himself has quite a presence. He's pint-sized, with a huge smile and a great attitude. He seems to carry some deep reservoir of pain, but he's kind and grateful and immensely likeable. It seems to me that that faction of Journey fans that are angry about Pineda being nothing more than a Perry soundalike, should see this movie.

Likewise, though I'd been a Journey fan since I was a kid, I don't think I'd ever seen Schon, keyboardist Jonathan Cain or bassist Ross Valory interviewed before, at least on film. They struck me as such ordinary guys, which maybe explains why they still call San Francisco their home base instead of glitzy Los Angeles. They seem immediately accepting of Pineda.

For whatever reason, Perry is not interviewed here. Perhaps he simply declined. I'd prefer not to think that it had anything to do with bad blood. But on Pineda's part, he has nothing but reverence for his predecessor. "I'm a fan, too," he says in one scene, and in another, he says, "I wouldn't be here without him."

Director Diaz focuses on Pineda's impact on the Filipino community as well, quickly becoming a hero to an entire nation. There are a few moving and generous scenes showing his new fans and their appreciation.

Yet the best argument for this movie is the music. Pineda brings a fresh enthusiasm to the old songs. For one thing, he had no hand in creating them and comes at them as a fan, and for another, he has not performed them a million times.

At the end, however, the movie shows some studio footage -- shot at Berkeley's Fantasy Studios -- of the band working on their 2011 album Eclipse and a song called "City of Hope" that sounds terrific. A quick check on WikiPedia shows that Pineda's first album with Journey, Revelation (2008), went platinum (one million units sold), but Eclipse is still languishing at around 70,000 units sold. This wouldn't be Pineda's first setback. Hopefully the Journey will continue.

The DVD release by Docurama/Cinedigm looks like it was designed to be a big, bulky CD case. Extras include biographies of the filmmakers, a little over 30 minutes of deleted scenes, which can be accessed separately or as "play all." There's also a trailer and footage from the Tribeca Film Festival.

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