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A Lego Brickumentary (2014)
A Lego Brickumentary, also known as Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary is a very interestingly done documentary that looks at the global culture, appeal, and history of the Lego Company and its building block toys. The documentary borders on mockumentary at times, and it features some rather confusing scenes, but overall, it's worth a watch, especially if you're a huge fan of the popular brick company. The film shows the audience the origin of Legos through its country of origin, Denmark, to modern day. The film goes through both the accomplishments and struggles of the company, and how it almost went bankrupt around 1999. The film shows how the company changed with the times, as well as, footage of Lego conventions, and various fans using their Legos in very creative ways. Creative use of Legos included a person who built an entire house out of Lego bricks, and another person who built an actual car using Legos. Both examples are crazily creative. The movie even contains scenes showing how Legos are improving the world, with some psychiatrist using Legos to help their patients, and one boy, named Adrian Pitt, who is using Legos to help with his speech problem.
The documentary is narrated by Jason Bateman, playing a fictional Lego, who appears sometimes in well-done stop-motion sequences and tells the audience about an aspect of Legos. What I appreciated about these particular sequences was the amount of creativity that went into them. It must have taken the filmmakers hours just to make one sequence. We even get to see some behind the scenes footage of the making of the recent The Lego Movie.
The film contains interviews with various people who work at Lego, as well as, entertainers such as Ed Sheeran, Trey Parker, and Dwight Howard, all of whom relate their personal experiences and appreciation for Legos. These sequences are nice, as we get to see that Lego fans go well-beyond supposed children or even nerds.
In spite of all of the praise I've given this film, I can't say it's perfect. One thing, a Brickumentary falls apart in, is it's a lack of focus. While all the various Lego stories are interesting, much of the material that happens at the actual Lego studios left me uninterested. Maybe I'm just not into the actual behind the scenes aspects of the company, but I did find the actual Lego creative stories more eventful, and thankfully, they do make up the bulk of the film.
That major flaw aside, A Lego Brickumentary is a fairly well-made, well-done documentary that serves as a good look at the history and success of one of the world's biggest toy companies, who got popular simply off one product, and not many companies can say that.
An Uneven Average Film That Is Most Notable For Being One of Robin Williams Last Performances
Boulevard is not a particularly great movie, and suffers from its utter generic-ness and lack of ambition. The absolute best thing I can say about the film, however, is it contains one of Robin Williams's last acting performances, and in spite of such an average picture, he manages to turn in a fine, very restrained, dramatic performance. The kind we had come to expect from Williams.
The set-up of the story is simple. A bank clerk, named Nolan (played by Robin Williams, lives a pretty standard life. He and his wife (played by Kathy Baker) have set-up their marriage as a way to distract themselves from the outside world. All of this changes one night while driving. Nolan encounters a troubled young man, named Leo (played by Roberto Aguire), and his entire life changes, as he comes to embrace who he really is, and even his own sexuality.
Boulevard is a pretty atypical film. It's well directed by Dito Montiel (who also made Guide To Recognizing Your Saints) and the script is okay, even having some genuine laughs in it. The performances all around, not just Williams, are fine, including Kathy Baker as his wife, Roberto Acquire as the troubled youth he befriends and Bob Odenkirk in a small role as one of his accomplices and friend named Winston. It's really Robin Williams who shines through though. This may not be one of his absolute best performances, but for being one of his final roles, it isn't a bad role either. Williams isn't being manically over the top (overly dramatic) in this film. He's showing the level of restraint that he's usually showed in some of his best roles like Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. For example, when he confronts his wife after missing dinner, instead of screaming and hollering, he tries to calm her down, and is very resourceful as playing it cool.
Boulevard is a rather short film with less than 90 minutes. The director clearly has skill in making a competent picture, but aside from Williams's performance, I wasn't drawn into much of the story. For being one of Robin Williams's last performances, it does make me sad, but either way, it was a good role for him to go out on.
Timbuktu is a well-made French co-production about the ancient city of Timbuktu, set in modern times. The relationship between the characters, particularly the family, is very strong in the film, and it works because of that. At the same time, the film is not especially engaging and it does include some brutal scenes. Overall, I'd say it's a mixed bag, even if I do admire what it's trying to do.
The film follows the people of Timbuktu who are powerless against Jihadists who want to control their fate. Many forms of different entertainment have been banned by these oppressors: music, laughter, and soccer, among others. The women are especially powerless, but they still manage to have some resistance against the evil leadership, and try to be independent, despite the laws imposed on them. Although the film has some other minor stories, it's essentially about a family led by a cattle herder named Kidane, his wife, Satima, their daughter Toya, and a twelve-year old shepherd named Issan.
What I liked about Timbuktu was the relationship between the father, his wife, and their daughter. Each of these three characters feel realistic, especially given the setting of the film. Neither Kidane nor Satima are particularly hard on their daughter, Toya, but they still expect much out of her. So when she gets into trouble in the film, Kidane is not proud. I especially liked the scene where Satima is telling Kidane that she's wants to leave the country, and Kidane reminds her how utterly pointless that idea really is. It's a strongly acted scene that helps to give more development to these already realistic characters.
The opening of this film, a five minute sequence that features no sound, is of the Malian men hunting a deer and doing other hard jobs near their city. It's a nice sequence that helps to give the audience an idea of what the film their watching will be like. Another sequence I liked that included a musical score, involved a group of African people playing soccer, until they are caught by some of the members of the Jihadists. Another sequence I liked involved a local man walking through a small river where the camera is set up a large distance in front of him, an interesting choice of direction, especially given what the scene is about. This film doesn't shy away from the violence of the country. Whippings, rocks being thrown at people's heads and other violent acts are shown in the film, making it more realistic.
However, for as much as I might praise the movie, there were a number of things there were other sequences that did not work for me, for example, when the African is getting interrogated for illegal playing soccer in the city, it just didn't seem to go anywhere afterwards, and the character is quickly dropped. Also, the sequence where a cow is killed by a fisherman, although interesting, is seemed to last too long, as the camera cuts closer and closer to the cow as it is dying. Timbuktu is a well-made movie, but some people might find the film hard to sit through, given that there are a few disturbing scenes. I, however, found it to be tame compared to other violent movies. It's a well-meaning picture, that isn't especially fascinating or entertaining, but you may find it enjoyable.
Needed More Time for Breathing but Great Performances Make it a Watch
Diplomacy is based off a play by Cyril Gely, and, in many respects, it feels like a play brought to film. This is, however, probably the movie's biggest weakness, as it moves very slowly at times. Despite this though, the film is very well acted and does feature some very interesting uses of editing and directing.
Set during World War II, Diplomacy tells the story of the relationship between Dietrich von Choltitz (played by Niels Arestrup), the German military governor who is currently occupying Paris, and Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling (played by Andre Dussollier), as Nordling attempts to convince Choltitz not to bomb Paris.
Diplomacy features some very good acting by the two leads, especially Dussollier as Nordling who looks very stern and strong throughout most of the movie. The majority of the film is set inside the office room where the two main characters are talking. At first, it seemed like the film would primarily be a one-room movie, but after the first forty or so minutes, we see some action happening outside, as soldiers are fighting for their lives. The shift is unexpected, but works in the film's favor.
The film doesn't shy away from the violence of war, and showed it in a very realistic manner, even if only for a few scenes. The others thing I appreciated about the film is the musical score, which at times was very effective, being both chilling and dramatic. The sets were excellent and made the film look like it was actually occurring during the 1940's in France. Overall, I'd say these positive attributes as worked together to make this film very enjoyable.
Overall, the film could have benefited by giving the audience more time to breathe, but if you're a fan of war movies, I definitely recommend seeing this film.
Point and Shoot (2014)
Point Out of My Mind
Marshall Curry's Point and Shoot is a documentary detailing the story of Matthew VanDyke, a man from the states, who on a motorbike set out to find his own adventure and his own manhood. His journey took him through various places, such as Africa, Arab, Afghanistan, and eventually, what turns out to be what the bulk of the film, leads to his involvement with the Libyan revolution of 2011. Point and Shoot is a very well made documentary, about a very unusual character, Matthew VanDyke. Like most good documentaries, it works because the main character is fascinating to learn about.
Matthew VanDyke suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and often washes his hands because he has an obsession with being clean. He also has a fear of really harming people. When we first meet him at the beginning of the film, he's talking about the equipment he brought on his journey. Afterwards, we cut to clips of his childhood, nicely intercut with interviews of him. We discover he had a very odd and not so pleasant childhood. Raised by his mother, after his parents divorced when he was 3 years old, Matthew became a bit of a weirdo, a loner having no real friends in school, and continued to live with his mother well into his twenties. The reason why Matthew decided to leave the country and set out on his journey was to make his own path, and become an adult, not just to his mother, but also to his girlfriend, Laura Fischer, whose relationship with him is a big part of the film. Not only did Matt accomplish his goals and grow-up, but he also discovered much more about himself then he really expected. According to Matthew himself, the greatest thing he encountered on his journey was a spiritual hippie named Nouri, who ends up becoming his best friend.
There are some nice directing choices in Point and Shoot. For example, there's a well done montage when Matthew is traveling from place to place, where we see him exploring the various cities and countries. Another good shot is when we see Matthew driving through various grasslands on his motorcycle. The way the scene is cut and paced is perfectly done. Another interesting and well done set of scenes are when Matthew is being taken prisoner. These scenes are done in a stylized sort of animation with the camera being very grainy, perhaps done by the director in an attempt to show things from Matthew's point of view.
Despite my praises for this documentary, there is one major problem I had with the film. It really falls apart in the final act when Matthew is finally freed from prison. What would seem like a logical place to end the film, it instead dragged on as we see Matthew continue to work in Libya. While I understand the filmmakers intent, and the documentary itself isn't very long (running around 83 minutes in length including credits, it felt somewhat tacked on and unnecessary. Aside from that, the film itself, while not perfect, is a very good and interesting watch.
Point and Shoot is well made, and shows us the story of a very fascinating character. Matthew VanDyke, who was a loner in his own country, but in his journey to Libya he found a place where he was accepted and made friends. His story is one of true courage, and the documentary does a good job of showing that. While I can't recommend the film for everyone, especially since the subject matter is very violent, but I can say that the film, as a whole, had me very fascinated and it was very entertaining to watch.
Laggies is a "coming of age" romantic comedy with a twist as the main character is not an adolescent, but is 28 years old. The film is not exceptional, but it is enjoyable, and its performances and story progression help to elevate an average film overall. Laggies begins by telling the story of Megan (played by Keira Knightley) whose longtime boyfriend (played by Mark Webber) has just proposed to her. Megan, having also just found out her father (played by Jeff Garlin) is having an extramarital affair, experiences a bit of an identity crisis, and doesn't know quite how to respond to her own marriage proposal. She plans a fake trip, in order to escape from her boyfriend for a week, and finds herself in the house of her newly found, 16 year old girlfriend, Annika (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), and her single, stern father, Craig, (played by Sam Rockwell).
The main characters go through changes as they begin to know each other. Megan starts out as a manipulative lying person who uses people, but as the film continues, she realizes this is not what she wants and begins to take charge of her own life by becoming more responsible. The character of Annika goes from being a risky teenager to becoming more of her own person, even confronting her own mother. Her father, Craig, goes through a character progression as he becomes less stuck-up and more of a person who actually cares for other people. All of three of the main characters story arcs nicely parallel each other. Out of all of the character arcs, I found Megan's due to Keira Knightley's performance, to be the most believable.
However, I did have my issues with this film. I found the boyfriend of the film, Anthony, to be a bit of a push-over and too much of a plot device. He gets introduced, gets a few scenes and then reappears during the climax. Another thing that bugged about the film, was an absurd scene where Knightley has to pose as Moretz's mother and I couldn't honestly believe that anyone would honestly believe that Knightley and Moretz were mother and daughter, what with the twelve years difference, and looking more like sisters.
There are some interesting directing choices by Lynn Shelton, including having the film start out with a flashback and then cutting to ten years later. As well as Knightley's introduction, where we see her listening to a CD player on the streets as she holds up a sign advertising her father's accounting business where she works. Check it out for yourself, and see what you think of it.
Listen Up Philip (2014)
Listen Up Movie
Listen Up Phillip is a very pretentious movie. It's not a poorly made movie, but it gives me the feeling that it's trying to be more than something it is. Listen Up Phillip tells the story of aspiring author Phillip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) who has just published his second novel. He wants to leave his adopted home city, and his relationship with his girlfriend, Ashley (played by Elizabeth Moss) is falling apart. When his idol Ike Zimmerman (played by Jonathan Pryce) offers him a chance to live with him at his isolated summer home, Phillip takes this opportunity to get some peace and quiet to focus on his favorite, and most important subject, himself.
The main character of Listen Up Phillip, Philip, is intentionally unlikeable and it's very hard to root for him. In some stories, unlikeable main characters change throughout the course of the story, but in this story, Phillip not change from beginning to end. Although I feel this is intentional on the director's part, if the protagonist was even meant to be relatable character at all, as the movie's narration suggests, then I believe the film failed in that regard.
Elizabeth Moss is pretty darn good as Jason's girlfriend, Ashley. She has all the right ingredients: she's full of emotion. Jonathan Pryce does a good job playing a messed up author, Ike, in a somewhat predictable role. Props to Krysten Ritter, especially, as Ike's daughter, who really gives us her all as an unhappy character. Also of note, is French actress, Josephine de La Baume, as Melanie Zimmerman, a woman Phillip starts dating at the end. Unfortunately, their relationship is underdeveloped, and somehow I was left feeling she was supposed to be more of a major character.
One of the better things I appreciated the film for, is how, despite the title, Phillip isn't the only character that gets some perspective. There are a few scenes, halfway through the film, where we see things from Ashley's viewpoint. There's even a sequence where she's talking to Phillip at a restaurant and we can only hear his voice, not see his face. There are even scenes where we are shown the perspective of other characters, Ike and Melanie, and we are given their thoughts on what they are thinking during those scenes.
There are some shots that I liked, too. The title sequence reminds me of a title sequence from the 70's and 80's, and I appreciate Eric Bogosian's narration (the opening almost made me think I was watching a documentarian for a second) describing the characters and their feelings. There's also a nice sequence where Phillip is driving the car which features some low-key jazz music in the background. While Listen Up Philip is not a film I would rush out to see again, it was enjoyable.
La chambre bleue (2014)
Average Court Days
The Blue Room is a French crime drama based on a novel of the same name by Georges Simenon and is directed by the lead actor, Mathieu Amalric. The film opens up in what is later revealed to be a flashback where the main character, Julien (played by Amalric), a married man, recalls his sexual experience with a woman (played by Stephanie Cleau) in a hotel room to the police. Julien is being accused of a crime that he doesn't apparently know anything about. As the film continues, and we go further and further into the story, we find out what actually did happen between this man and woman, as well as, the relationship between this man and his wife, eventually leading to a court case.
The movie's most interesting elements are its story structure, told in flashback, and its use of its musical score. One of my favorite scenes concerns Julien trying to burn some papers and they slowly vanish into the darkness of the ocean. The way this scene is filmed and framed, being intentionally slow, made it very interesting from a filmmaking standpoint.
The musical score is often bombastic, and scenes that aren't really meant to be dramatic carried a melodramatic theme. The score itself goes through different phases, from the very dramatic, to the mysterious, scary and even intimidating. The best use of the score in the film is during a court scene where we see people doing various things all at once. The background piano music fits the theme of this scene particularly well.
This film has good acting from its lead actors and lovely cinematography. If you like stories of adultery and crime, you will not be disappointed, however I found that the film wasn't particularly memorable or anything special overall.
Art and Craft (2014)
Art and Craft is one of the most fascinating documentaries about art that I have ever seen. It's well made, well put together, and delivers a very satisfying experience overall. In fact, this film fascinated me more than some live action movies have.
Art and Craft is a documentary that follows a few days in the life of famous art forger, Mark. A Landis. Mr. Landis is a savant who has spent 30 years deceiving museums with his drawings by making them believe that they actually have art by a famous artist, when, in fact it's just him. Landis has the amazing ability to copy a painting almost exactly like the original artist, although Landis is not a very good artist, rarely paints original art of his own, and prefers instead to cheat and copy. This film explores Landis as we see him go through his childhood, learn how he became obsessed with art, how his fraud was eventually exposed, and also see him prepare for an exhibit based upon his "fake" work.
This documentary was a very pleasant surprise. After weeks of films that were okay, but lackluster, Art and Craft's high quality was a breath of fresh air. This documentary doesn't portray Landis as a criminal or villain, or glorify him as some sort of hero. Instead, it just portrays him as a real human being who is a curiously strange person. In total, Landis has given 47 forged paintings to 46 art museums around America. In the film, we see interviews with Landis himself where he explains why he became a forger, what his life is like, and his understanding of his mental problems. We also see interviews with people who have met Landis, or people who worked at various art museums that Landis has tried to give forged paintings to, and how they may or may not see him as a villain. This documentary method is quite effective and allows us to see perspective from both sides.
Some of the directing choices in this film were interesting as well. Filmmakers Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman really show they know how to use a camera. Sequences such as the one where we see Landis's photo gallery and his forged art really help to emphasize him as a person. While I quite liked how the regular scenes kept being intercut with movie clips from films like Casablanca and Charlie Chan, as Landis is shown to be a bit of a classic film fan, having grown up watching a lot of television and movies.
Art and Craft is a wonderfully made documentary about one of the most fascinating characters of real life art. I've watched plenty of great documentaries in the past, but this one reminds me of why I find filmmaking to be interesting in the first place. I definitely recommended this film.
Love Is Strange (2014)
Strong Performances Help What Could Have Been An Average Film
Love Is Strange is a good quiet film that's elevated by strong performances from its leads (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) and supporting cast. The film is also a well-made "gay" film, dealing with the subject of same-sex relationship without making the characters straight-up stereotypes. Love Is Strange is a good movie overall, even if the film is real nothing special.
Love Is Strange tells the story of gay lovers, Ben played by John Lithgow a painter and George played by Alfred Molina a music teacher, who finally tie the knot after living together for some time. Only things get complicated when George is fired from his position as a music teacher. This forces the two to live separately from each other, with George living with two cops played by Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez), and Ben living with his nephew played by Darren Burrows, wife played by Marisa Tomei, and their son played by Charlie Tahan, as the two try to look for cheaper housing.
The two lead performances by Lithgow and Molina feel very natural and real as does their chemistry as lovers. Even though the two share little scenes together (being separated throughout most of the film), you can tell that Ben and George are genuinely in love with each other. The scene where the two hug is quite touching. While Marisa Tomei gives a natural well layered, good performance as a mother who feels a little bit disconnected from her family. Her best scene is when she complains to her husband about how he's too soft on his uncle Ben. Darren Burrows is also another good standout as Joey, Tomei's son in the film who has a bit too many problems that he's hiding from his family.
Some of the shots in Love Is Strange are nice. The opening sequence with a shot of the legs of the two main characters (Ben and George) sleeping together in their bed was well done. While there's another nice quiet scene where Ben is shown painting. The short scene consists of little dialogue and just music played in the background.
Love Is Strange doesn't really tackle the gay subject matter all that much, but it doesn't play it up either. Very few times throughout the film is the word gay actually said, and because of this, I appreciate Love Is Strange.
One of the best things about the film it's score. Although the score is very limited and small, it consists of classical music, primarily that of a piano. This helps to give certain scenes a nice feeling. Additionally, the use of classical music in the film makes sense considering that George is a music teacher himself.
Love Is Strange is a very quiet and understated film. While not perfect, the film is helped by its lead performances and is overall enjoyable to watch.