Comments on watching and making films.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a relatively slow moving, but calculated director. He has directed only 4 features in 10 years, and I can say that the last three have been incredible (I haven't seen Amores Perros, so I can not speak to that one). If moving at an almost Kubrickian pace is what keeps the quality of his films so high, I salute him for it. Biutiful, his latest, has definitely been worth the four year wait since his last feature, Babel.

Biutiful follows a Spanish man, Uxbal (played by Javier Bardem), who is primarily involved in process of selling bootleg merchandise. He acts as a middle man between the factory and the sales people on the street, facilitating the transfer of merchandise, the pay off's to police, and he takes it upon himself to make sure the labor is taken care of. When Uxbal finds out he has cancer, though, his life begins a seemingly irreversible slide. Everything good deed he does is thrown back in his face, as he gets weaker and weaker.

Biutiful is a lot like The King's Speech in that it's pretty impossible to find anything wrong with it. The acting is superb from all of the main players, the cinematography is gorgeous, and it's put together perfectly. I will say that I was extremely glad that Innaritu decided to stick to a linear story line in this film. While I liked 21 Grams, it was disorienting, and, while Babel was nowhere near that, the jumping back and forth, following so many stories, was a little exhausting by the end. Biutiful, because it is a much more localized film and focused on only a few main characters, allows you to really focus on these individuals and get to know them, and that is why, I feel (mind you, with Amores Perros not included in this), that Biutiful is Inarritu's best film to date.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

DVD - Girl 27

Hollywood seems forever plagued by scandals, whether real or used for publicity, but early Hollywood seemed to be overly rife with them. It was as though the players must have felt they were invincible (and, maybe, they were). Girl 27 is the story of Patricia Douglas, a woman involved in one of those scandals, who lost her life (metaphorically), because of the power of those involved, and the climate of American society at the time.

Studios often threw parties for various reasons, and often hired girls to entertain at said parties. In 1937, MGM threw a party for its distributors, and it was to be a night of drunken debauchery, with alcohol and women. It was never supposed to go far, but when one of the attendees raped one of the girls (Patricia Douglas) and she came forward, It touched off a scandal for MGM.

Girl 27 is a fascinating piece of Hollywood history. Patricia Douglas had interesting story, and you can feel that the pain of the situation was still with her when the film was being made. My only problem with the doc was director David Stenn, who seemed hell bent on trying to insert himself into the story as much as possible. The voice over, the on camera appearances… He was trying to Michael Moore the whole thing, and it was just not necessary.

DVD - Catfish

The advent of digital video recording has forever changed the field of documentary filmmaking. For twenty years, or more, people have been making docs on Beta Cams, Digi-Betas, Mini-DV's, and, now, High Def camcorders. Digital video has made documentary more open and easier to capture, and though there are now amazing doc's that would not have existed twenty or thirty years ago (because shooting them on film would have been too expensive), there is also a ridiculous increase in boring and self serving material. While the documentary, Catfish, can come off this way early on, it eventually develops into an extremely fascinating commentary on the online age, where identity is no longer something that can be controlled, but rather something that can be used fluidly, or flat out stolen.

Catfish follows Nev Schulman, a New York City photographer, who strikes up a relationship with a young prodigy painter, and, eventually, her whole family. As time passes, he begins to explore an online romance with the little girls much older sister. Things never seem quite right, though, and Nev's suspicions lead him, and the filmmakers to travel to Michigan to meet the family he's been involved with, online and over the phone, for the last several months.

Catfish is a really interesting film, but one must go into it expecting to figure out the "twist" early on, in order to not be disappointed. In fact, I would go so fa as to say that there really isn't a twist at all, but simply a roll out of reality as the doc progresses. The fact that the doc was marketed as a mystery, I think, caused a lot of people to be pissed off, but doc's are rarely mysteries, and they'll never give you the kind of rush or satisfaction that a carefully crafted fictional story has the capability of giving you. Catfish is absolutely worth your time, just don't expect it to be mind bending.