Monday, April 5, 2010

We Live In Public, 2009 - Ondi Timoner

For me, this was one of the most anticipated Docs of last year. We Live In Public is a film that looks at a man who predicted, before anyone else, more about the interconnected world we live in today. It also offers perhaps the best modern argument, that being the first at something, doesn't guarantee you will be the one everyone remembers. Josh Harris is that man, and his misguided motivations make this film a hard sit at times. Such is the lot of films that have a not so very likable person at their center. He seems the sort that perhaps needed to attend a lot of psycho-therapy to undo the damage from his childhood before interacting with the world at large. Instead, his pathology was able to flourish and find support through his genius. It is at times painfully obvious this man is headed on a downward spiral and will take anyone that's around for the ride. One of the things that still makes this film fascinating, is how eager everyone was to take part in this man's obviously corrosive whims. Which is perhaps the most damning argument the film makes on today's indulgent and transparent culture.

Josh Harris is someone filled to the brim with familial issues, and acts out on them in all his social experiments. Strangley, this all felt a bit bland and lacked any sort of real surprises since it was pretty easy to see where things were going. It is a very sad story about a very sad man. Genius or no, we like our main characters to come to some sort of closure. At the very least to come to some self realization on a human level. He reflected much on his business ventures, and learned lessons. Although, his personal interactions with the people in his life, are as stilted and lacking in any real resolution at the end, as they were when the film began. This man is the sort to rationalize his relationships into who wronged him and how.

Ondi Timoner seems to be making a career out of these sorts of men. She won me over with her work on "DIG!" when I saw it a few years ago, I was riveted even though I didn't care for most of the people it was about. At times, the film seemed to play out like a rehash of the bouts with drugs bands were having in the late 60's and early 70's. A story of course that just repeats itself over and over. Also, it was one of those stories where you know it will not end well for any involved. The presentation was compelling because of Timoner's unfolding of the stories. It was a story of excess and ego-mania, and was simply captivating to see the path of destruction these bands were on. Another fascinating thing about Timoner's work is the seemingly bottomless access she's granted from her subjects. She somehow is able to get inside these people in ways not apparant to other filmmakers. With her deconstructing of the Male Ego, Timoner may be the Katherine Bigelow of the Indie Doc World. That's high praise coming from this guy. 
This film was viewed on DVD

L4YER CAKE, 2004 - Matthew Vaughn

I was convalescing a pulled tooth last week; too lazy to get up and insert a blu ray disk, I caught this movie just as it was starting. Let me just say, avoid any movie that substitutes a number for a letter in the title, when it seemingly has no meaning except to look cool. Layer Cake wasn't terrible, like many of the new slate of crime dramas to come out of England. It is however, very underwhelming and over usese a sexy camera style to compensate for the lack of story. The eminently cool Daniel Craig, delivers another hard nosed, machoized performance. Lucky for him he does these so well. The rest of the cast comes through with terrific characterizations in support of a film that lacks a compelling purpose for them. It's a pity the cast had to wallow through the weak narrative and over wrought plot line. These are the types of movies that need to rely on ever more intricate plot devices to keep you watching. It's always easy to spot a film that lacks in substance right at the get go. Is the camera being extra busy doing things to keep you interested? Yes? Then you know what you're in for. A film with a solid screenplay rarely has to do that because the frame is filled with relevant content that's always furthering the story. 
This film was viewed on IFC HD

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Einstein & Eddington, 2008 - Philip Martin

Although this film was made for TV, I thought it was worth mentioning. The story of Einstein working toward and finally arriving at, the General Theory of Relativity, is perhaps not the typical subject for a dramatic film. If you're not aware of the real life story behind this, Arthur Eddington was the man who helped prove some of Einstein's theories, which then propelled Einstein to worldwide celebrity. This film went to lengths in showing the toll their passions take on their professional and personal lives. Devoting as much time to the science and process, as to the women in their lives, we are made witness to two very different men with a common goal. The story takes place during the First World War, which acts as a hurdle both must overcome in the name of science. The two men's very different approaches to pretty much everything, contrast heavily, yet of course, there is the mutual love for the work. Which is also a contrast, Eddington is the consummate empirical researcher, and Einstein the genius theorist. Falling well within the framework you'd expect from a made for TV movie, we are still treated to a great cast. The biggest departure from that framework is in the two excellent British actors; David Tennant of Dr. Who fame and the terrific character actor Andy Serkis turn in keen portrayals. In watching the two, we also see a contrast in acting styles. Tennant, the Royal Shakespeare Co. grad, whose persona shines through all his work, and is backed by a very well tuned actor's instrument. Then Serkis, who's approach is of the immersive chameleon-like variety. I enjoy seeing both these gentlemen turn up in roles and hope there's plenty more from them on the horizon. 
This film was viewed on HBOs HD

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Hangover, 2009 - Todd Philips

I wasn't holding out much hope for this flick. Thinking it would satisfy for a foray into dumb guy comedy, I was very pleased to find the story unfold in an entertaining way. The title is perfectly used in that we never see the night in question and only find out about it slowly as the players themselves piece together the fragments that come through the fog of their excesses. Philips and the writers treated what could've been a very standard slog through familiar territory with some creativity, but what's next? Another one of these dumb guy movies populated with more superfluous fare? Old School is still much better, and will certainly outlast this one as the years pass. Also, big thumbs up to Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis for turning in perfs that are worthy of much better vehicles. I certainly hope they both land more substantial roles in their next outings. 
This film was viewed on blu ray

Not coming to a theater near you: Stanley Kubrick

Over at Not coming to a theater near you, there's a fine feature on my favorite filmmaker Stanley Kubrick which started late last month. How did all this time slip and I didn't hear about it!? The main article was posted last month and they've released pieces on all his films since. I started with the Fear and Desire article and it's made me rethink my dismissal of the film. Looking back I think there was a point where I drank the Kool Aid and brushed aside the film solely for Mr. Kubrick's embarrassment over it. I was fortunate enough to see it in 1994 before he had it taken away from the Film Forum's retrospective. At that time, having read some interviews with him, I was aware that he dismissed it, but not aware he would go to such lengths as to have prints of it appropriated and locked up.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Green Zone, 2010 - Paul Greengrass

Stylishly consistent with Greengrass's earlier efforts, Green Zone misses in message and content. I was very surprised that this was his next film after his last. Considering other fictions to come from Iraq, GZ comes off as the weakest. One can't even make the case that what populates GZ is a mish mash of unused segments from the Bourne films. It's more like he gave Jason Bourne his memory back, and rehashed a bunch of Bourne moments, setting them in a fictional story inspired by true events. Therefore all the intended surprises(?) were the stuff we'd all seen play out on the evening news. This film offers nothing new for all involved. The story had the typical trappings, mcguffins, and characters you'd expect from a lesser filmmaker. Who was this film made for? The two people that have been living under a rock for the last seven years that need to see the deceptions of the Iraq War in a dramatized form? In a career that up till now was on a trajectory for teflon status, this film is a big step backward for Greengrass. I kept hoping this film would go into some more surprising territory, instead it simply played out like a very standard actioner.  The question I kept asking was, "Why Greengrass, why?"
This film was viewed at The Tribeca Cinemas, Manhattan

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Z, 1969 - Costa Gavras

No I'm not working through a list of one letter movie titles (see my earlier post for M by Fritz Lang). Costa Gavras' political indictment of a fascist government, turning a blind eye at violence against a communist movement, is both gripping and damning. I found this film to be engaging, also I must note that for the time, this film was quite the groundbreaker. The film starts with things already bubbling and doesn't let up. There are a few stereotypically European stylistic choices that, I don't know if I care for. The constant use of off camera dialogue made it feel clinical, and a bit stale, slowing down the momentum at points. The soundtrack (Foley, sound effects) was very sparse, even lacking in areas, leading me to think perhaps such an ambitious film was barely able to be made. Perhaps the filmmakers were working under the gun so to speak. Nervous studio threatening to pull out if it goes over budget? That's just a guess. I am looking past these small stylistic qualms in view of Mr. Gavras' brilliant overall aesthetic. 
What the film delivers on is a scathing look at the behind the scenes goings on of political manipulation, in a very forward looking style. A must see for anyone interested in such things. This film is especially relevant given the times, we live in.
This film was seen through Netflix Streaming of the Criterion version.

True Grit, 1969 - Henry Hathaway

I'd never seen this film when I was younger. I'm only seeing it now because the Coen brothers are doing a remake. They will be skipping the movie and going to the original novel which this film was based on. The original film was the typical Hollywood studio fare of the time. Given that this came after The Man With No Name trilogy, I was disappointed to see that none of Leone's revisions to the western genre were in use. Perhaps it was too soon. Certainly Wayne comes off as the sort that would never admit that Eastwood was doing westerns, ahem, better than he was. That said, Wayne was actually surprisingly entertaining. I was never a fan of his, he always seemed to be pushing some personal ideology or image of himself rather than simply acting. There are some very good supporting actors (Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper) that I think weren't given enough of a chance to shine due to what seems to be Wayne having to populate a large percentage of screen time. I think the thing that shines most here is the story and the characters populating it. What the Coen Brothers do with the book, makes for one of the few things I'm looking forward to this year. 
This film was watched at home, on TCM HD

Friday, March 26, 2010

It Might Get Loud, 2008 - Davis Guggenheim

It would be very easy for me to give this film five stars. Does it deserve that? I'm not sure. I wound up giving it four on Netflix out of some fear that I lose my objectivity with this material. It deals with subjects I have a deep fondness for, music, musicians and their process with the guitar. Extend that statement to most any type of artist talking about their craft.. I'm in! I recognize that there are subjects I have a soft spot for and may be a bit blinded by that in my adulation. This very well may be one of those moments.
 Davis Guggenheim is establishing himself as an excellent documentarian and I for one will be watching out for what he's up to next. This film handles the subject in a fresh and unique way. Instead of going for the obvious jam potential, it spends time alone with each player, dwelling in their places of inspiration; talking about their beginnings, early influences and their personal views on their work, we get a view of how different they are, and how they relate to each other. Then, in small doses at first, we spend time with them together where they each get to ask the other two about their music. Then of course, there are the jams; they play each other's music which is fun for us as much as it is for them. After watching, I had renewed respect for each of these men and their process. There are moments in this film that will confirm one's own creative work or even inspire you to pick up that tool of expression you may have put down. 
One of the little joys was seeing Jimmy Page first strap on his guitar, play a few chords and you are immediately transported to visions of him on stage in full Led Zep performance mode. For any Rock fan, this is a must, but I insist for anyone who enjoys a well made Doc, it is not to be missed! I also want to note that this film was the brainchild of Thomas Tull. A producer whose pedigree has many more hits than misses. 
This film was viewed at home, on blu ray, and it did get loud!

M, 1931 - Fritz Lang

I've been in a mood lately to revisit some classics from my filmgoing past. One of them is this wonderfully crafted tale of a pedophile who encounters a strange form of justice. This time around, I took further notice of Lang's use of the surroundings to support and move the story forward. A deft user of art direction, Lang, here displays the inner workings of the murderer's mind through the sets and background action. Any Film class will cover the obvious, like when Lorre is stalking his next prey, in front of a book store where there's an arrow moving in a downward stabbing motion and of course the spinning spiral wheel connoting madness. There's the obvious and then the not so. The film goes to lengths to incorporate subtle visual cues throughout. It's influences are in German Expressionist film yet never leaving the realm of reality. The play of shadows on walls, the use of a stairwell's spindles to suggest prison bars as in the prison of the mind, not the physical kind. All these things help expand this film into nightmarish territory that blends reality and dreamlike visions of madness. This is all now very textbook for filmmakers, although this film serves as a great starting point for anyone wishing to dig deep into the early language of film. Lorre's portrayal is not to be missed, and still elicits chills from his realistic depiction of a child murderer.
This film was viewed at home, on Criterion DVD