Monday, October 13, 2008

Armchair Film School

So, I’ve been catching up on my movie viewing. I’ve watched a number of documentaries, a few classics, and a summer blockbuster.

The Business of Being Born
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Abby Epstein
Length: 84 minutes

Summary: A close look at the maternity-care system and its alternative, home birthing.

My 2¢: Truly engaging and informative. I was concerned that it would be biased and one-sided. However, an unexpected turn of events while filming forced the filmmakers to challenge their own theory/thesis.

Devil’s Playground
Genre: Documentary       
Dir: Lucy Walker
Length: 77 minutes

Summary: A look at what might be considered a rite-of-passage period for teens in a certain Amish Community.

My 2¢: While attending a dinner party for the Stony Brook Film Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting Dana Dalaney, who had starred in that evening’s feature film. Though our interaction was brief, she did recommend I watch Devil’s Playground. It is quite informative and shows another side of Amish life that few might know. I’m aware that not every Amish community is the same. Still, this film definitely had me glued to my seat. I cared about each of the teens highlighted in the film, as their stories were truly compelling.

I Remember Me
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Kim A. Snyder
Length: 74 minutes

Summary: Filmmaker Kim Snyder shares her own nightmare as she struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

My 2¢: I really love the way this documentary was shot. It could be a bit disjointing at first, but it did make me an active participant in the subject matter - possibly giving me a feel for what the filmmaker and others who face this not-yet-widely-recognized disease encounter on a daily basis. At times, it felt a bit long, but on a whole, it was informative and left me with a number of questions and wanting to seek further answers and research of my own.

The Education of Shelby Knox
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Marion Lipschutz, Rose Rosenblatt
Length: 76 minutes

Summary: Filmmakers follow a 16-yearold teenager for three years as she struggles to get her small town to reverse its abstinence-only school-based curriculum.

My 2¢: Let’s just say I’m keeping an eye out for Shelby Knox in the not-so-distant political arena. I couldn’t call this film informative, as I don’t think it set out to change a person’s mind. The film knows its audience, and because of that, less time is spent on persuasive arguments and more time is spent on developing a personal narrative. I enjoyed it.

Waging A Living
Genre: Documentary
Dir:Roger Weisburg
Length: 85 minutes

Summary: A close look at four diverse families as they struggle to make ends meet living below the poverty line.

My 2¢: I watched this film with my 12 and 15 year-old children. It was truly informative, and put a lot of things in perspective for my kids. It would be great to see this added to high school economic classes as additional resources. The filmmakers spent three years with their subjects and did a pretty good job in editing a cohesive story out of the struggles and triumphs each family faced. This film does not attempt to examine all faces of poverty, but is more a slice of one particular group.

Death At A Funeral
Genre: Comedy
Dir: Frank Oz
Cast: Matthew Macfadyen, Peter Dinklage, Daisy Donovan, Keeley Hawes, and Peter Egan
Length: 91 minutes

Summary: During the funeral for their father, two sons try to hide the fact that their highly-respected father carried on a romantic relationship with another man.

My 2¢: I’m a sucker for British humor. Ever since my best friend’s mother introduced me to Nuns on the Run, I’ve been hooked on this slapstick, over-the-top form of comedy. I know, it’s not for everyone, but when I want to truly escape, I pop one of these in, and the day seems so much cheerier. This film was no exception. While I could predict clearly where it was going, it was the execution of each scene that still had me laughing out loud. There is a particularly gross scene I could do without, but all-in-all, I enjoyed the film.

Charlie Wilson’s War
Genre: Political Drama
Dir: Mike Nichols
Cast: Tom Hanks, Phillp Seymour Hoffman, Emily Blunt, Julia Roberts
Length: 97 minutes

Summary: Based on true events. A Texas congressman aids the Afghans against the Soviets.

My 2¢: First, I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin fan. Second, I love political dramas. This felt more like a mixture of both drama and comedy. It’s pretty heavy subject matter, and as with all things Sorkin, you have to keep up with the fast-paced dialogue and non-watered down political history lessons converted into a script. Tom Hanks does an excellent job; however, I felt that his transformation was not as smooth. I’m not sure if that’s because the character never really changes as much as he simply reveals another side of himself. For this reason, I don’t think I ever fully felt connected to the character, but more amazed and drawn to the events of the story. It did set me on the path of wanting to learn more about this period in history and what led up to these events. And did I say I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin fan?

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins
Genre: Comedy
Dir: Malcolm D. Lee
Cast: Martin Lawrence, James Earl Jones, Joy Bryant, Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Mo’Nique
Length: 114 minutes

Summary: A successful reality star reluctantly returns home to Georgia.

My 2¢: The reviews for this were not good, but as I really enjoyed Lee’s The Best Man, I was willing to give it a chance. There was a lot of potential, but it felt as if the all-star comedic cast strayed from the script too often. I could only imagine having so many comedic voices on one set and trying to get them to follow a script. The story was good, and there were many strong emotional moments - and it’s always a treat to see James Earl Jones.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Stanley Nelson
Length: 86 minutes

Summary: Nelson examines the people and church led by Jim Jones, who was responsible for the mass suicide/murder of 900+.

My 2¢: This was an interesting documentary into the subject. Before I started, I was sure I was going to watch 86 minutes of religious zealots so far gone that they could easily be led to drink the Kool-Aid. However, what followed was an amazing look at every day, ordinary people believing in a better future easily falling victim to their own visions and beliefs. This is definitely a must-see film.

Aristide and the Endless Revolution
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Nicolas Rossier
Length: 84 minutes

Summary: A close examination of Aristide’s fall from power.

My 2¢: As I have always been curious about Haiti’s history, this was an engaging look at more recent events. The film left me with more questions than answers. It was a good beginner’s reference.

Germany, Year Zero
Genre: Drama; Foreign
Dir: Roberto Rossellini
Cast: Edmund Moeschke, Ernst Pittschau, Ingetraud Hinze, Franz-Otto Kruger
Length: 71minutes

Summary: a 12-year-old boy is forced to grow up fast in war-torn Berlin.

My 2¢: I must be honest, I wasn’t expecting much; however, this little film was really good - better than good. It is such a simple story - more of a morality tale. As this film was originally released in 1948, the viewing quality was far from perfect. I also felt that the dialogue was a bit too wordy, but I understood that the length and the need to get a message across called for more words.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Alex Gibney
Length: 110 minutes

Summary: Examines the rise and fall of Enron.

My 2¢: The movie scared the shit out of me. Informative; engaging; sheer amazement at the balls and nerve of today’s corporate world. We know that those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it, but we never talk about how much time has to pass before we can call it history. Let’s just say, today’s events should not be too much of a surprise.

Why We Fight
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Eugene Jarecki
Length: 98 minutes

Summary: A close look at the “military industrial complex”.

My 2¢: So far, I’ve watched it twice. There will be many subsequent viewings - many.

Lawrence of Arabia
Genre: Drama; Classic
Dir: David Lean
Cast: Peter O’Toole, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy
Length: WAY TOOOO LONG (227 minutes)

Summary: The epic tale of T.E. Lawrence’s fight to unite the Arab nations.

My 2¢: I would need an entire blog entry, and it would add up to more than cents - we’re talking bills at this point. I had seen this as a child, but never really remembered it. I know I’m in the minority, but I did NOT like this film at all. Cinematically striking, beautifully shot (at least the first 1,000 minutes, then it was like watching beautiful paint dry). However, I’m a story - character - girl. I thought Lawrence was an egotistical, borderline psycho. Talk about ideas of grandiosity. A lot of the characters could have used a bit more development, and the ending - anticlimactic. This is a favorite amongst many of today’s leading directors; I can respect them for that. I, however, cannot join the bandwagon - I will not drink the Kool-Aid.

Iron Man
Genre: Action/Adventure; Comic Book
Dir: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bob, Shaun Toub
Length: 126 minutes

Summary: Weapons maker Tony Stark becomes Iron Man.

My 2¢: Robert Downey Jr. looks DAMN GOOD. Sorry, I just needed to say that. I really, really liked this movie, and look forward to seeing more of Jon Favreau’s work. He impressed me with his economy of story. If you watch the deleted scenes, you’ll see some really strong story choices. The director and editor teamwork is quite evident in the final project. While there are a few story holes (the scientist held prisoner with Stark seems a bit forced - uneven), the overall entertainment value delivers big time. I will be sitting down for another viewing pretty soon. And did I mention Downey looked DAMN GOOD?

By the way, I’m almost finished re-reading Miracle at St. Anna and will be blogging part 2 of the movie review.

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