Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sundance - Sound City - 4 stars

This is a documentary directed by Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters).  It starts out focusing on Sound City, a legendary studio in LA where numerous classic albums were recorded.  The studio recently shut down, and Grohl interviewed a bunch of the artists who recorded there, including Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Cheap Trick, Rick Springfield, Ratt, and many others.

The best things about the studio were the drum sound and the board.  Drums sound different in every room, and even though Sound City was not designed as a studio, the drums sounded better in there than just about anywhere else.  The sound board was a specially made Neve console.  Only 4 of them were ever made.

I really enjoyed the interviews with the musicians.  There are some great stories told, including how Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac (it was because of Sound City).  The segment where they talk about the digital revolution and Pro Tools is particularly good.  My favorite interview subject was Tom Petty.  He has a great droll sense of humor, and he just doesn't seem to give a shit.  He was hilarious.

When Sound City closed, Dave Grohl bought the Neve console and put it in his home studio.  The second half of the documentary shows how he invited all these musicians to come record an album which would become the soundtrack to this movie.  We see various musicians writing and recording in Grohl's studio.

The movie started to bore me a little in this segment, as it went on longer than it needed to.  It seemed like the movie was becoming an advertisement to buy the soundtrack.  But then Paul McCartney shows up and the movie gets great again.  There is something incredible about watching a legend like McCartney writing a song with Grohl and his friends, and it makes you realize that he writes a song like many other musicians.  First you work out a guitar riff and jam with the other musicians, then the song starts to take shape.

This is a movie that everyone who has ever been in a band needs to see.  In addition to all the stuff that's specific to the board and the studio, the movie also has a great message about what it means to be an artist, and how we shouldn't be afraid to be ourselves or be afraid of failure.  At the Q&A, Grohl said his advice to every young person interested in music is to buy a cheap guitar at a yard sale, get together with some friends and start a band.  I am in a couple bands, and watching the movie made me want to get the band together to write and record.  It's inspiring.

Slamdance - Hank and Asha - 3 1/2 stars

Hank (Andrew Pastides) had a movie play at a film festival in Prague.  He wasn't able to attend, so Asha (Mahira Kakkar) emails him a video.  The video is of her, asking him a question about his movie.  He replies with a video of his own, and an online friendship is born.

Hank is living in New York City and working as a production assistant on a reality show.  Asha is from India but living in Prague attending film school.  Each one is surprised to find that the other person is younger (and more attractive) than each had imagined.

This movie is a real pleasant discovery.  The movie consists of the videos each character made for the other, which means neither actor is on screen together at the same time.  At first, the videos are simply the characters talking directly to the camera.  They are addressing each other, but this puts the audience right in the middle of the action, as the actors are speaking directly to us.

As the movie progresses, the videos get more elaborate.  They take their cameras outside to show the other person their city, school / job, and stuff like that.  What starts as a pen pal - type of friendship starts to develop into a flirtatious relationship.  There is talk of meeting in Paris ...

Both actors are very good in their roles, but Mahira Kakkar is particularly good.  She has a sweetness and vulnerability that comes across so well on screen, and there is an innocent quality there as well.  I really got into the story of these two, and I was hoping they would end up together.  I was more invested in their story than any other on screen romance I have seen in a long time.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sundance - Manhunt - 3 stars

This is a documentary about the search for Osama Bin Laden.  It's an interesting movie to watch after you see Zero Dark Thirty.

I felt like the movie started out really slowly.  I want facts and information from a documentary, and this movie takes its time giving those out.  The first part of the movie focuses on showing us the women who were hunting for Bin Laden before anyone else knew his name.  We learn more about their jobs than we do the facts of the investigation at first.

I don't know how much classified information had to be left out, but there is at least one scene where one of the subjects can't answer a question.  There isn't anything the filmmakers can do about that, but it's still frustrating knowing that there are details to this story that can't be told.

I forgot that a CNN crew interviewed Bin Laden in the mid '90s.  It's interesting to see the footage and hear the reporters talk about meeting Bin Laden.  It's also interesting to learn that Bin Laden declared war on America and no one noticed.

The movie touches on a lot of themes that it doesn't explore.  I guess the movie would be far too long if they did, but I really wanted to hear more about their views on torture.  The CIA analysts and other interview subjects reveal that no useful information came from torture, and that all the valuable information came from traditional interrogation methods.  But this is glossed over pretty quickly.  I also liked the message at the end about how it's important to try and understand why the terrorists hate us, because killing Bin Laden doesn't mean there won't be another terrorist attack.

There is mention of the Iraq war, but not much.  It would have been interesting to hear whether the war made it harder to find Bin Laden.  Also, when they talk about the CIA black sites, it would have been nice to hear about whether innocent people were sent there under the assumption that they were terrorists.  This movie makes it seem like everyone who was interrogated was an Al Qaeda member.

This movie could have been much tighter and more focused, but there is enough good information in there to recommend it.

Sundance - The Look of Love - 2 1/2 stars

From  "Welcome to the scandalous world of Paul Raymond, entrepreneur, impresario, and the “king of Soho.” Seeing mediocrity in the smutty sex parlors of London, Raymond unveils his first “gentlemen’s club” in 1958 and gradually builds an empire of clubs and erotic magazines that brings him vast wealth while affronting British sexual mores. It also brings a litany of obscenity charges, a failed marriage, troubled children, and personal tragedy."

Steve Coogan plays Paul Raymond.  He is Britain's answer to Hugh Hefner.  This is a different kind of performance from Coogan.  While he does have some funny moments, it's definitely a dramatic role.  This movie should have been a lot better.  The movie traces his life from stage performer to director of nude stage shows to men's magazine publisher.  By the end of the movie he will be the richest man in Britain.

Watching the movie I felt like there were scenes missing.  I felt like we were getting the cliffs notes version of the story.  It moved by so fast that I had a hard time getting emotionally involved.  It got better as it went along, but I would have liked some longer scenes and more dialogue to give us an idea of what he was thinking and feeling as he started his businesses.  

One thing that confused me was his wife.  At first, it seems like she knows he's sleeping with his models and she is ok with it.  Then abruptly she starts freaking out over his relationship with a new girl.  

The story line that works best in the movie is when Raymond develops a business relationship with his adult daughter.  He is grooming her to take over the company, and he is also condoning her drug use.  His advice to her is don't buy drugs on the street, because you don't know if it's any good.  Make sure you buy the good stuff.

I was surprised that the movie bored me as much as it did.  It just wasn't structured very well.  Lots of nudity though.

Sundance - Virtually Heroes - 2 1/2 stars

From A sarcastic, self-aware character in a video game, Sgt. Books, becomes frustrated by the screwy logic of his universe: the pointless battles, superpowerful bosses, and an endless supply of virtual Vietcong. He can’t get the girl who appears at the end of each level, and he can’t get through to his gung-ho partner. To find answers to the questions posed by his odd existence, Books abandons his mission and seeks help from a straight-talking monk, delightfully played by another onscreen hero who also once received words of wisdom from a man in a robe.

This is a very clever premise.  The character fights until he is killed, then the words "Press fire to continue" flash on the screen.  Then the game starts over.  As the player keeps starting the game over and over again, we see the same scene played out several times.  But the character in the game is aware he's in a game.  

This movie should have been a lot more fun than it is.  There are moments that made me laugh, like when we find out that a bridge is the boss of a level.  It makes sense if you're ever played a first person shooter arcade game.  Or the main villain who has a pet pig.  The Mark Hamill cameo is cute, but he's only in the movie for about 5 minutes.

This is definitely a B movie, and while the idea of seeing a Roger Corman movie at Sundance sounds intriguing, it's not much different from watching a Roger Corman movie on cable.  

Slamdance - Between Us (3 stars)

From  In this darkly comedic drama, two couples reunite over two incendiary evenings where anything can happen. Grace and Carlo are a newly married New York couple who visit their old friends Sharyl and Joel in their huge Midwestern home. Despite their wealth, the hosts are in a bitterly destructive marriage. A few years later, the couples reunite in New York, but the tables are turned as the young couple struggles with parenthood and finances, only to discover their old friends even more successful and much happier than before.

It took a little while to get into this.  At first I didn't care much for either couple.  But as the movie progressed I started to get interested in them and their struggles.  The movie flashes back and forth between the two time periods.  One minute, Sharyl and Joel are screaming at each other, the next minute we are in New York watching Sharyl and Joel getting along great while Grace and Carlo's marriage is falling apart.

I don't know if the jumping back and forth in time aspect worked so well.  At times it bugged me.  I would like to see this movie edited chronologically.  Jumping back and forth between the time periods makes it apparent how easy it is for a happily married couple to become so unhappy, and vice verse.

This movie could easily be a play, since it only takes place in two settings - each couples' living rooms - and the entire movie is dialogue.  The performances were really good, especially Julia Stiles and David Harbour.  I have seen Harbour in other movies, but this is a star making performance.  I just wish I enjoyed the movie a bit more.  It's a tough one to recommend.  You're basically watching married people fight the entire time.  I admire the writing but it's not a crowd pleasing movie.