Thursday 29 October 2009

Review: Starsuckers

Year: 2009
Director: Chris Akins
Screenplay: Chris Akins

My last excursion to the London Film festival was Chris Akins attack on media all consuming quest to entrap us in it's dazzling glare. The festival's organizer made a joke by mentioning that the some of the very newspapers that are being hit on are suddenly giving the film a quite a bit of column space. I do however worry that the joke may be on the filmmakers with it's lack of providing answers to clear us from the murky quagmire that is the media outlets have become.

The film is frustrating, frightening, troubling and yet constantly entertaining. It's annoyingly flawed but greatly important within our climate. It is essential viewing but will the right people see it? Like all good documentaries Starsuckers has stained my mind and has constantly had me questioning things since I've seen it. Akins' second documentary feature is not only good humored but well informative, hitting home with revealing information on such historic media events such as Live 8, or the disturbing moral ground that is creating fake celebrity stories for money. Such aspects of the film are not only funny but arouse important question about what we read and how our opinions is hijacked and reformed for consumption. Although much of this may not be new to a few people (read some Chomsky maybe) but I still found myself shocked by how deep the rabbit hole goes. So so twisted are the mechanics that I suddenly found myself feeling pretty helpless about how the media manipulates us.

But is this what Akins wants? For the viewer to like they can do nothing but succumb to global media domination? Akins taking liberties was a much more calculated attack on how Labour may have almost effectively stop Britain's right to free speech, which despite it's depressing outlook, still managed to have information on how to react to what you saw if one felt strong enough. Starsuckers lacks positive outcomes and by the end of the film, one may feel more than a little entrenched.

The film also attacks the Internet and bloggers such as myself which is fine, however when looking at the films difficulty in getting made by biting the hand that feeds, it's the honesty of certain bloggers and web writers that will allow this movie to thrive because it will be extremely difficult to go though more traditional outlets.

The film works best when it's kept simple. Akin employ high jinks that would have the likes of Bruno and Borat blushing while Micheal Moore nods in approval. In fact judging by the films reaction with the cinema, Akins effective (if slightly smug) methods not only garner great laughs but manage to get many of the films important points across, even if the film is slightly over reaching.

Starsuckers may have many liberals nodding and winking at the screen, hurriedly agreeing with the films views, but the films lack of positives and over reliance on humor had me worry that maybe we've gone beyond the point of no return when it comes to finding a way out. Where have our reliable sources gone for instance? While we are not in the days of Bernstein and Woodward any more, but isn't there anyone out there to save us? Starsuckers is funny, effective and scary but the question it should but doesn't ask is "what are we going to do?"

More Starsuckers talk at Geekplanetonline

Review: Taking Woodstock

Year: 2009
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: James Schamus
Starring: Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Liev Schreiber

Plot Synopsis is here

It's interesting to see that both taking woodstock and a serious man are about good natured protagonists who are beginning to buckle under the amount of pressure that is heaped upon them. However while The Coens have a sympathetic yet unfortunate character, a strong back catalogue of themes and a genuinely intriguing story to fall back on. Woodstock has nothing but the fading glory of the festival to prop itself up....oh wait none of the festival is seen.

From the off the path, of Taking Woodstock is a gentle and at first an amusing one. As the characters get introduced, it's clear to see that it wishes to be a film that doesn't want to rock the boat to much. Considering the controversies of lee's recent entries (Lust, Caution and Brokeback Mountain), this is almost a complete turn around and one that many could find quite pleasing. The problem is with a film subject as well documented and volatile as this one, Lee does nothing to fully engage myself as a viewer. The drama is bland, with little or no strong conflict to speak of. In fact, compared to the much maligned Hulk movie (also by Lee) it's quite surprising that Hulk wins out in the dramatic stakes.

When the idea of actually getting the characters to butt heads actually rears it's head, you realize the screenplays lack of character background hampered it yonks ago when you were laughing at the one dimensional money hungry Russian Jewish mother character that was thrown in your face. In a supposed coming of age film like this, sometimes humor can only take you so far, and by the time Demetri Martin's lead character of Elliot has missed a day of the festival due to an acid trip, you've discovered that the film is not really interested in his plight. Sprinklings of what the film could be appear in places but lacks the verve and passion that usually comes with Lee's films.

The films sense of place is also patchy, the idea of having a film about Woodstock without showing any of it is a novel and brave idea. But compare this to Almost Famous and you realise how lost in time the film really is. Crowe's crowd pleaser also doesn't have famous names playing either, but Crowe's story feels so much closer to the era than James Schamus screenplay.

Some Performances are amusing in the film (Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman and Liev Schreiber being standouts) but these are hampered by an uneven lead who seems overwhelmed by the films (perceived) scope and the simply brutal Emile Hirsch, whose ott performance is nabbed from every nam veteran part ever known.

Considered to be a coming of age tale, this doesn't come close as we should connect with the trails and tribulations of character as the arc raises and reaches a climax. But everything is held at a distance while Martin's Elliot drifts out of one of the most important moments of his generation. Also considering Lee's Brokeback Mountain, the films homosexual subtext is badly handled and almost non-existent, as if Lee decided that "going gay" again would be a bad idea. It wouldn't if it were dealt as tenderly as Lee's neo-western.

Taking Woodstock pitters out of stream by the last act and by the time the film clumsily inserts some tame drama it's too late. The characters haven't been sympathetic enough for us to care and the films real story as been lost amid the Woodstock background. So much is put upon the planning of the event but nothing on why you should care about the players positions.

A rear miss from a more than capable director, it's easy to see why Lee does some of the things he does and it's good to see something not as forced as say Benjamin Button, with this said, more assertiveness was needed to make the drama interesting while I wouldn't minded a more focused screenplay. Cest la vie.

Hear me talk about this movie at Geekplanetonline

Review: A Serious Man

Year: 2009
Directors: The Coen Brothers
Screenplay: The Coen Brothers
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed

Synopsis is here

What to say about the brothers Coen? Well they are predictable at being unpredictable and after the lackluster films of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, the brothers grim have hit back with what I consider an incredible run of form. The daft Burn after reading, The Somber No country for old men and now, the nihilistic A serious man, a film which reminds us that we may not know all the answers in life but even so it might be best to stay on the safe and narrow.

Not that the film helps in anyway, as the lead character is tossed from pillar to post, from disaster to disaster with nothing to help him expect his glum face. Larry never complains, but is always looking for help or the answer. With nothing forthcoming he finds his life slowly spiraling out of control with nothing to guide him except the will to ride it out. He questions his faith and god but maybe god doesn't wish to busy little questions like what does it all mean? I may be completely wrong about this. I've read some interesting theories about the film on the imdb. But the coen brothers film is so strong in it's direction it could absorb any of the theories presented.

I say this because the Coen's (bastards that they can be) aren't very communicative with straightforward answers. the film's message is clearer with the viewer having a good grasp on not only the book of job and quantum physics, but the Coens also know that not everyone will have those topics easily stored within their head and so the Coen still manage to keep the film entertaining, compelling and GOD DAMN FUNNY, without losing sight of the audience. Although some more mainstream audiences will hope for a "clearer"conclusion, but the clues are there and those who keep close watch should be completely satisfied.

Where is god...everywhere? Nowhere? The film likes to straddle both ideas, it also plays on the idea that bad things can quite simply happen to the best of us, because it can. We are constantly being told how everything will work out, or how we're special but maybe.....just maybe...this isn't true. One of the things I stated was how nihilistic the film appears to be from my viewpoint I'm right but with others it can come across as sad, it's a film that allows you to bring much to the table.

A Serious Man is also a film that riffs on the past Coen themes of old. Constantly toying with the topics of heaven and hell as well as the circular aspects of fate that's appeared in the last two movies. At one point Stuhlbarg's Larry almost becoming a spitting image of Barton Fink halfway through the film. In fact of all the Coen's films A serious man to me feels like a great companion piece to the 1991 film.

The entire film is encapsulated by it's lead. We've been reminded about great Coen performances by more known actors but the central turn by stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg is one that will enter the grand halls of Lebowski and H.I. The character is an amusing comic creation of helplessness. It's a complex role that ponders the question of being assertive against committing sin. His eyes constantly searching for guidance from a faith that appears to enjoy procrastination than actual help.

But maybe they are helping? The best thing about the ever confident Coen's direction is how rich and layered the story is told. A Serious Man is about everything and nothing at the same time. it's about our struggle with faith and how our incessant need for clear and concise conclusion. But The film also says that maybe, just maybe....we're better off not worrying those mysterious big questions, because they're supposed to be mysterious for a reason.

Hear me talk more about this movie at Geekplanetonline