Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Month in Review - April 2012

For me, April is always dominated by the ten days of the Florida Film Festival. I've written at some length about it already, so I won't expound anymore than to merely say it is a simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting week-and-a-half of movie watching. I watched some great movies, met a couple of very nice filmmakers, and experienced it for the first time as a somewhat legitimate member of the press.


My girlfriend and I started to do a periodical documentary night where each one of us would pic a doc to watch for a double-feature. For our first doc night, she chose the moving debut feature from Geralyn Pezanoski, Mine, about the pets who were abandoned after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. What often got lost in the coverage of the disaster, beneath the piles of news stories about displaced families and of the failed response from the national government--beneath the piles of debris itself--were the animals whom their owners were forced to leave behind. Citizens looking for shelter from the hurricane were not allowed to bring along their pets. Many of them merely locked them in their houses with enough food and water to weather the storm, not realizing the severity of the disaster. So many of these animals died, but a good amount were left stranded after the hurricane, trapped in their own residence without a family to be reunited with.

The film follows the rescue efforts of several good samaritans who go house-to-house to save these animals and the struggle these volunteers have in trying to reunite them with their owners. The major conflict occurs when many of these owners cannot return to their homes and so these pets end up going to shelters and then given to new families lest they be put down due to overcrowding. But what happens when their original owners finally do come around to being able to reconnect with their pets? Legal action can only do so much. Their new owners are their legal owner, but are they their rightful ones?

For my pick, I went with Errol Morris's Tabloid, which I first saw at IFC Center last August. The movie retells the story of Joyce McKinney, a beauty queen who was accused of kidnapping and raping Kirk Anderson in England that sparked huge headlines in the late 70s for British tabloids The Daily Mirror and The Daily Express. McKinney, through interviews of the most entertaining variety, continues to maintain the consensual nature of their relationship. Anderson, a Mormon missionary, chose not to be interviewed for the movie. And while that certainly denies us the voice of opposition, it allows us to experience the full-on wackiness of McKinney, whose innocent southern twang belies her sharp and savvy wit.

We ended the month with yet another doc night, watching Dogtown and Z-Boys and Louder Than a Bomb. Dogtown and Z-Boys (her choice) follows the rise of the Zephyr skating team that grew out of the surfing culture in south Santa Monica. When this group developed a skating style that mirrored the aggressive surfing techniques they grew up watching and then practiced those in the many drained backyard pools in the city, it was no less than a revolution. Modern skating was born here and everything from the X Games to Tony Hawk video games owes its existence to the culture that emerged from this tight-knit crew.

Adam Gottlieb
I chose Louder Than a Bomb after having seen it almost exactly a year ago at the 2011 Florida Film Festival. The title comes from the Chicago youth poetry slam competition, the largest of its kind in the world. The film focuses on four particular contestants during the six months leading up to the 2008 competition. There's Lamar, the emotional and cocky leader from defending champion Steinmetz--a school more known for sports than academics; Nova, the insightful and introspective young woman who's busy balancing a tough family life with her schoolwork; Adam, an infectiously cheery kid whose love for poetry is as passionate as his love for people; and Nate, the poetry slam vet who cares more about mentoring the younger students on his team than winning any prize. Documentaries are invariably only as good as the subject about which they are documenting. And these four subjects are fantastic.

Here's my fave:

As apparently disparate these two movies are, what strikes me about both these groups of people is the very palpable sense of camaraderie amongst each of them. Despite the competitiveness both the skaters and poets display in their desire to do well, they still genuinely root for each other. All members of the Zephyr group were proud of each other's success after all of the skaters eventually joined different teams. Poets from different schools ran to the foot of the stage to congratulate a fellow student's powerful performance. It shows that competition needn't beget animosity, but instead foster community.

Speaking of Community, I don't mean to make my TV sidebar every month to be about my favorite show, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the second part of that blanket-vs-pillow-fort episode I wrote about last month. This episode, aptly titled "Pillows and Blankets," brilliantly approaches the Civil War-like story of the fighting Troy and Abed factions as envisioned by Ken Burns, that director of documentaries such as, well, The Civil War. I can think of no other piece of mass popular culture that maintains the rigor and commitment to fully deconstructing mass popular culture as Community does and still providing the level of sitcom silliness that it does, such as this piece of kaleidoscopic hilarity and utter nonsense (as spoken by the episode's narrator, voiced by Keith David):

The North Cafeteria, named after Admiral William North, is located in the western portion of East Hall, gateway to the western half of North Hall, which is named not after William North, but for its position above the South Wall. It is the most contested and confusing battlefield on Greendale's campus, next to the English Memorial Spanish Center, named after English Memorial, a Portuguese sailor that discovered Greendale while looking for a fountain that cured syphilis.

In other TV-related watching, I finally caught up with and was quite taken by BBC's recent update of Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular detective and Martin Freeman as his sidekick, Watson. I'm certainly not one to champion an adaptation's fidelity to its source material as a virtue onto itself, but what I like about this Sherlock is its faithfulness to who the Sherlock character is. One of my big problems with the recent Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. reboots of Sherlock Holmes is that it turned him into a bulky action hero, when the charm of the Holmes character lies in his wit and his mind. Yes, Cumberbatch's Sherlock has some athletic prowess. But it's his classic skills of deduction, the intellectual acumen he uses to decipher random facts, that make him such a fantastic character.

The Daytrippers is a movie I'd been wanting to see ever since director Greg Mottola had been on my radar. His debut feature--about a woman who finds a note that suggests her husband might be cheating and brings her Long Island family along to Manhattan to do some reconnaissance work--is more a kindred spirit to Mottola's earnest Adventureland than the raunchier Superbad. It's a perfect cast, top to bottom, with the tender Hope Davis at the center as the possibly cheated-upon wife.

I'd also been wanting to catch up with Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 Band of Outsiders, his story of two young Frenchmen--Franz and Arthur--who befriend the beautiful Odile in English class. They plan to steal a large sum of money from the wealthy family with whom Odile is staying just outside of Paris. Like most of Godard's especially early work, it's playful and self-conscious. The guys are as preoccupied in seducing Odile (played by Godard's radiant muse, Anna Karina) as they are in stealing the money. While less vital than Breathless--Godard's seminal masterpiece--Band of Outsiders possesses the same charm and is just as fun. It also contains two of the more iconic sequences of his career, the race through the Louvre and the wonderful dance in the café:

Lastly, I saw Nicholas Stoller's very funny, perhaps overlong, romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement with Jason Segel and Emily Blunt. Segel's emergence as a romantic lead is an interesting one given his fairly unique ability to blend his trademark goofy, loveable comedy with a much darker type of humor, filled with psychosis and rage.

1 comment:

screaming said...

Yet another wonderfully written entry. The writers and actors of Community are really showcasing their skills lately. The documentary episode is a masterpiece; fantastically written, wonderfully acted, and hilariously entertaining. This was by far the highlight of the season with the Law and Order episode a very close second.
As I have an intense love of poetry, I am now incredibly interested in watching Louder Than a Bomb. It sounds like a fun, interesting watch.