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Month: August, 2013

Summah Break

If I’m posting, it goes without saying that it’s also been a while since I posted. Much of this was written last week, but my life has gone from boring to insane almost instantaneously. But before that happened, I managed to watch a bunch of movies.

Also, here’s to Aaron Ramsey, the shining light in the otherwise depressing last 2 months of being an Arsenal fan.
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To the movies:
Film #29: It’s a Disaster
(Writer & Director: Todd Berger)

A Netflix Instant special. I love David Cross, so I knew this was worth a shot. This is the couple’s comedy version of This is the End. Glen (Cross) and Tracy (Julia Stiles) visit her friends for a couples brunch. While there, their city is attacked with dirty bombs, and they wait it out in a house. Tensions rise, secrets are revealed, and emotions are toyed with. The script is fast, smart, and cutting, and for about an hour, I think it really works. The problem is that Berger doesn’t really seem to know where he wants this to go or what we are supposed to get out of it, so he relies on a weird, unearned twist in the final act that feels like a cop out. There are some genuinely funny moments and fantastic dialogue, but it doesn’t quite come together in the end. An interesting film though and worth a watch.

Film #30: Starlet
(Writers: Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch; Director: Sean Baker)
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Starlet is a little indie film from last year that won an Independent Spirit Award and picked up buzz online. I was happy to see it going on Netflix Instant because I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see it. It definitely has the prototypical indie feel in terms of visuals and pacing and I don’t think there is anything about it that is spectacular. Jane (Dree Hemingway) finds a ton of money in a vase she bought from a cranky old woman, Sadie (Besedka Johnson), but she doesn’t return it. Instead, she tries to befriend Sadie to cure her guilty conscience, even though Sadie is resistant. The film doesn’t do anything revolutionary and the plot follows a fairly predictable path, but it is well made and engaging. In particular, Dree Hemingway is really fantastic. It’s hard not to fall in love with her portrayal of Jane. She’s a supermodel, so I’m not sure how well she’d fit into most films, but here, that look works perfect.

Film #31: Argo
(Writer: Chris Terrio; Director: Ben Affleck)

I’ve generally liked Affleck’s directorial stints, although I’d say they are really just solid Hollywood films. They remind me of Clint Eastwood’s films. Solid stories, professionally made, but nothing exceptional or unique. Argo is easily his weakest film and has easily been one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen recently. The biggest problem is Affleck’s on-screen performance. Tony Mendez is one of the most boring characters I’ve ever seen on film. There is NOTHING interesting about him. I don’t understand the character’s motivations, I don’t understand his backstory, and Affleck’s portrayal is so flat that it’s almost as if he isn’t even present. Similarly, on the direction side, Affleck does nothing to get us to care about the Americans Mendez is trying to rescue. Aside from one annoying couple, they are completely non-descript. We are given no reason to truly care about their safety, aside from the fact that they are American. I also think Affleck’s portrayal of Iran and its people is problematic and generic, but that’s an issue I don’t have the energy to get into. This could have been a really fun movie given its premise, but it just falls flat on all accounts.

Film #32: Safety Not Guaranteed
(Writer: Derek Connolly; Director: Colin Trevorrow)

This movie is so full of people I love that it’s hard not to enjoy it. Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is an intern at a Seattle Magazine who volunteers to help writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) investigate Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who is looking for a partner to go back in time with him. Their goal is to figure out who Kenneth is and why he wants to go back in time. Like any good indie film, this is both funny, beautiful, and sad. It’s a movie about how the past is always present, and how every person, no matter what they say, has something they wish they could change. I was particularly surprised with Aubrey Plaza who is really, really good here. Sure, she’s still that awkward Aubrey Plaza you know and love, but she brings a real humanity to this role that surprised me. Like It’s a Disaster and Starlet, this isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it’s solid, entertaining, and thoughtful filmmaking.

This Is Not Pitch Perfect

Film #27: Pitch Perfect
(Writers: Kay Cannon & Mickey Rapkin; Director: Jason Moore)

I have a deep-rooted hatred of musicals, but this is probably one of the least offensive ones I’ve seen. I guess I can handle a musical if the music makes sense and it isn’t meant to be an exploration of the characters’ inner thoughts and emotions. Here, it’s just karaoke, and I can handle that. The plot is ludicrous, but knowingly so, and Anna Kendrick’s alt-DJ character is just silly. But this movie doesn’t take itself seriously and it’s quite funny in parts. Any movie, musical or not, where Adam Devine pretty much plays his character from Workaholics is ok with me. Nothing spectacular, but a pleasant hour and a half.

Film #28: This is Not a Film
(Directors: Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)
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Jafar Panahi is an Iranian filmmaker who was imprisoned when a film he was trying to make ran afoul of the government’s liking. He was put under house-arrest and given a 20 year ban from making films. This Is Not a Film is his attempt to resist this ban (hence the name). Essentially a documentary, Panahi, with the help of his friend and documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, creates a subtle, thoughtful critique of modern Iran and filmmaking itself.

But it isn’t just a documentary. It quickly becomes an investigation into the nature of film, and more importantly, the instinctive drive Panahi has to make films. The film begins with him simply placing the camera in places in his apartment and recording his daily activities as he makes tea, talks with his lawyer, and feeds his daughter’s lizard. When this feels too forced to him, he has Mirtahmasb come over to help him film. Panahi wants to re-create the film that got him arrested that he never had a chance to film. He blocks off his living room with tape and walks through what would be happening, what we’d be seeing, and what the characters would be doing. It sort of comes off like a director’s commentary but without an actual film.

But then Panahi backtracks again. He shows a clip from one of his previous films and explains that his actor brought something to the scene that would have been impossible for him to account for in the script. He realizes that walking through what will happen in a movie is not a movie. The story he wants to tell is reliant on actors and setting, things completely barred to him in his apartment.

What does a filmmaker do when he can’t make films? How does an artist express himself when he’s been barred access to his tools? This Is Not a Film is an attempt to come to terms with those questions by flipping them on their heads and making them into narratives themselves. What results is compelling, beautiful, antagonistic, and a true love letter to film.

Suggested Double-Bill: This Is Not a Film & Holy Motors

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