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Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

New Additions: “Duck Soup,” “Harold and Maude,” “The Battle of San Pietro”

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Hello, readers. Hope that everyone had a happy holiday. I, myself, finally got a hold my first Blu ray player (yes, I said my first). And I’ll tell you what: if I had known that I’d be able to stream my Netflix instant queue onto my TV in full HD through said player for no additional charge, you can bet I would have gotten one a long time ago.

So, now that the The Mitchell List has gone public, I feel that it’s worth noting to my readers when new films that I’ve never seen before get added to the ranks. Therefore, I’m starting a new series of posts which I will call New Additions. In these, I will offer a brief, paragraph-long review and the usual rankings so that you know my basic thoughts on the film. And you can bet, now that I have an infinite wealth of movies into my living room, there will hopefully be a wealth of these.

 

“Duck Soup,” (Leo McCarey) – 1933

I must say that I am not as fluent with the works of the Marx Brothers as I am with those of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Yet after viewing “Duck Soup,” it’s certainly no joke that they are raucously talented and hilarious. The gags come as fast, witty and very well-planted. The mirror gag and hat-stealing scenes in particular are just a joy to watch, mostly due to their incredible choreography. The film also contains a hint of social commentary, even if it seems weak compared to today’s standards. However, the film runs into trouble when the comedy bits start to get in the way of things like structure, character and all of the other things that make up a film. The movie, then, encompasses more of the traits of a fantastic stand-up routine then a feature.

GRADES:           B            * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           7.4 / 10.0

 

“Harold and Maude” (Hal Ashby) – 1971

My understanding is that this film is known for having an insane cult following, in essence, almost inventing the term. I will say that the film takes on some unorthodox and original concepts. The suicide concept is particularly dicy (although I’m still kind of confused as to how he pulled some of them off, and galled that they didn’t explain them). It also contains great performances from Ruth Gordon and Vivian Pickles. However, the film raises too many unanswered questions. One that constantly got on my nerves was, why aren’t any of these people in jail? They really are a lot more horrible and less sympathetic than the plot lets on. And the ending leaves the viewer a lot less satisfied then one would wish from an “inspirational” film.

GRADES:           B-           * * * / * * * * *           6.4 / 10.0

 

“The Battle of San Pietro” (John Huston) – 1945

Some of the stories about this movie are just as interesting, if not more so, than the film itself. In a response to to claims from the military that his documentary was anti-war, John Huston said that if he ever made a pro-war film, he should be shot. Another tale tells of a woman standing up in the theater and shrieking that she sees her son during a montage of American corpses. One thing is for sure: this film paved the way for the modern-day documentary. When most of the war time news was only showing the cheerful and inspiring moments of the war, Huston displays the gritty realities of combat. It is a direct influence on films like “Restrepo,” and really, well, every other war film made since. It is also an ode to filmmakers who must overcome huge obstacles to get their films viewed, for what’s a bigger obstacle than the U.S. Military.

GRADES:           A-           * * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           8.6 / 10.0

 

“Inside Job” Review

November 26, 2010 1 comment

Shortly before the 15 finalists for Best Documentary were announced, I screened one of the frontrunners, Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job.” As of right now, if there was one film that deserves to break into the top 5 and eventually take home the gold, it would be this one.

The film is a no-holds-barred exposé on the Wall Street banking industry and how it literally brought America, and really the world as well, to its knees. Through loads of investigative journalism and on-point interviews, Ferguson uncovers how greed, irresponsibility and deregulation (or in other words “‘Reagan’-ization”) of corporate banks caused the worst recession of nearly any generation alive today.

There are a number of respectable, some even phenomenal, documentarians working in film today: Michael Moore, Davis Guggenheim, Heidi Ewing, Errol Morris, and, of course, Alex Gibney. However, in absolute truth, I don’t think any of them impress me as much as Charles Ferguson, and by God, this is only his second feature film. His debut movie, “No End in Sight,” was easily the single best documentary about the Iraq war, outlining the faults and atrocities committed by the individuals in power. Here, he brings that same demanding insight to the the most recent act of white collar crime to cripple our country.

Now, even though the film does its best to put its information into Layman’s terms, it still deals with some dense material. It outlines the events and actions that lead up to the bankruptcy of both Lehman Brothers and AIG. Wall Street CEOs were endorsing predatory lending, as well as financially betting against properties and stocks after pressuring others to invest into them. They blew millions of dollars on bonuses and salaries, not to mention cocaine and prostitutes, and didn’t create a net for themselves while they drove their businesses, backed with the money of millions of innocent people, straight into the ground.

One of the most laudable aspects of Ferguson’s films is that, unlike some real-life filmmakers, he never lets a good story interfere with the truth, so to speak. This film is not a work of entertainment. It is certainly entertaining at times, but it does overemphasize in its theatrics. Instead, it works the viewer with an onslaught of hard facts. Ferguson lets the information speak for itself, and it speaks quite loudly.

What’s more is that, unlike Michael Moore, another documentarian who goes for the throat, Ferguson never makes himself the main attraction in the film. He is always the faceless man behind the camera. And while Ferguson is never seen, his voice is always present, hammering into his interview subjects. He never gives them time to breathe, let alone attempt to obfuscate their way to a vague, insufficient response. With every word he utters, you feel the passion and resolve in his voice, and you know that every bit of this film is on his shoulders.

The look of the film is fantastic. Every interview is lit perfectly, and the surrounding environments are always used to the best that they can be in framing up each subject. Also, the film contains some of the most gorgeous aerial cinematography that you will see this year. The soaring plates of downtown Manhattan are so breathtaking, I felt that I should have been watching in IMAX. And while the final message of the film may be a bit cliched and vague, the ending shot of the Statue of Liberty speaks volumes more than words ever could.

In the end, there is one characteristic that “Inside Job” and all of Charles Ferguson’s films have that elevate them above the rest is the element of rage. This director has a greater ability to absolutely infuriate his audience than any of his peers. If a viewer goes into this movie without a true knowledge or interest in the subject at hand, they will for sure leave with one, and leave pissed off, as well. And if that is not the true goal of any documentarian with a passion, than I don’t know what is.

GRADES:           A-           * * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           8.8 / 10.0