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Saw a preview of this documentary...
I saw a limited preview screening of this in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Theater on August 8, 2009. This doc will air on HBO in November.
And it was absolutely killer. HBO Documentaries does it again. They're a brand I can shop by: Taxi to the Dark Side, The Agronomist, Born Into Brothels, etc. All great documentaries.
"By the People" is no exception. It's an intimate look into Barack Obama's brain trust and his key organizing generals on the ground. It captures intense, emotional, historical moments with strange moods outside fluorescent-lit hallways inside rooms you'd give your left arm to be a fly on the wall in. Then, of course, the camera goes into those rooms. But it only gives you a taste.
In that sense, it leaves you wanting more. One can only imagine the amount of great footage they had leave on the cutting room floor. Hopefully, after this doc airs and the DVD is released, we'll get to see some of those deleted scenes.
In the movie, here are some things you get to see you never would otherwise: Robert Gibbs' adorable little son, David Alexrod yo-yo'ing from an Obama-like calm to very Jew-neurotic about exit polls and Obama shedding a tear or two during a speech the day his grandmother dies and one day before his eventual election. Very touching. You also get to hear his grandmother (audio only) talk about Obama as a boy (a first ever, or at least for me) over shots of some rarely-before-seen family pictures.
You get a wonderful, natural insight into how Obama's wife and kids act together as a family. How well-spoken and adult-sounding Malia, about 9 or 10 at the time, is. The distant look in her eyes when she says she wishes she could see her dad more during the campaign. You get to see how truly fierce in will and personality Michelle is. How much charismatic, black Chicago machismo swagger Obama gains when he's off-stage.
If this all seems a little too intimate and personal, you may be right. But so instrumental to Obama's likability and popularity as a candidate at the time was his narrative and his character. A campaign as modern and media-savvy as this one doesn't just let this one slip by them, uncomfortably. They wanted this. Or at very least they allowed it.
It will inevitably be compared to "The War Room," an ultimately surface-skimming and unsatisfying exposee into how Bill Clinton won the 1992 election, directed by D.A. Pennebaker, a documentarian of legend. But where "The War Room" was sensationalist, "By the People" is tense and emotional. And also matter of fact. It creates a mostly chronological and fairly complete time line of Obama's experience from the 2006 take back of the House by the Democrats to election night, about two years altogether.
The instances of the familiarity this bred between the filmmakers and the campaign staff is best demonstrated when, near the end of the campaign, Obama smiles broadly and waves to the camera like he's actually glad to see them. Like he's relieved, almost.
In one telling moment, he seems mildly surprised the documentary's camera crew made it to the New Hampshire primary after his victorious Iowa caucus, since the media blitz around his campaign grew exponentially.
Obama says something like "You guys stuck around," smiling a politician's smile. And his communications director Robert Gibbs says, "That's because their movie's about to get better." He had no idea.
I Am So Proud of You (2008)
Best animated short film I've ever seen.
Words cannot describe how moved I was when I first saw this film. I was lucky enough to catch it at the Tallahassee Film Festival in April. I was blown away. I had to leave the theater afterward because a) I had gather myself, b) I had to leave for work and c) anything I saw after it would just seem shitty and anti-climactic.
It's existential in the best way; strange, awkward and funny much like "This American Life" or some works I've seen in McSweeny's or Believer. and finally human and nuanced despite the unadorned drawings of what are essentially black-on-white stick figure drawings. Like an apolitical Dan Perjovschi, Hertsfeldt can express worlds of meaning in the lightest wrist flick of his black marker.
I can't recommend this movie enough. Without trying to be melodramatic, I think it may have changed my outlook on things, on life.
Lady in the Water (2006)
Pretentious? Overreaching? Really?
...Well hasn't M. Night kind of always been that way? Especially since "Signs," when he decided he didn't want to do twists anymore? People, and I mean "people" as in "nearly everyone," liked "The Sixth Sense" and his movies have always been visually lush and ambitious... so what's the problem, here? He event went back to the twist thing in "The Village," and no one seemed to like it.
I think the problem might be this: People keep expecting another "Sixth Sense." Another jaw-dropping, twist ending like it was "the first time." Bruce Willis is actually (spoiler) or Sam Jackson was a (spoiler) all along.
So if you're reading this and want another "Sixth Sense" twist. My advice to you: Don't hold your breath (no "Lady in the Water" pun intended).
Film critics didn't like "Lady" because, no brainer, M. Night killed off the film critic character in his movie. As someone who contributes as a film critic from time to time, I saw through that. The other critics didn't and they're foolish for writing reviews spawned from pettiness. I saw M. Night was baiting his critics, who mostly panned "The Village" two years ago (which, for the record, I loved), and from which "Lady in the Water" didn't differ too drastically.
I think what people easily forget about this movie, its back story moreso, is that its meant for small children (I'd be remiss if I didn't point out: M. Night has pioneered his own niche where he makes adult horror/suspense movies for children-- kids horror!).
The scene where Cleveland curls up on the couch, listening to the Asian mother's story about the narf and all that legend? M. Night is probably illustrating there what he wants the audience to do. "Forget all your cynicism, your doubt, your pain," he's saying in subtext. "Leave it at the door before you see my movie, would you please?" If you do that, I promise you'll at least see the movie clearer, if not like it a lot more than you do now. I came into it like a child, and I found it very moving (hence the high under 18 ratings on the site).
I give this film a nine, maybe a little higher than the movie deserves due to some dubious, "are you serious, dude?" moments of scatterbrained and way-out-there storytelling (yes, M. Night is nuts-- he's been nuts for a long time-- didn't you see the Sci-Fi Channel special on him?), only to make up for all the ones its needlessly, undeservedly received. Shame on you folks.
A bizarre music documentary
Must be seen (or heard) to be believed. The premise is simple: Know those little ads in the back of magazines that claim they can turn a poem or poetry and a couple of bucks into a CD of full-fledged pop song(s)? This documentary profiles the people who write the lyrics (from all over our twisted, twisted nation) and compose the music (session musician burnouts who compose these songs off the top of the head in about 5 minutes).
"Non-Violent Taekwondo Troopers," to cite one example of the many songs featured in this documentary, would be kind of frightening and creepy if it weren't so chock full of non- sequiturs and flat-out funny lyrics-- kung-fu bicycles harnessing the power of Priscilla Presley and all.
If you think the songs are weird, just wait until you see the actual songwriters in the documentary. Their misguided musical dreams and charming idiosyncrasies make this documentary what it is.
Oh, and the DVD extras just add to the bizarre programming. It can hardly even be described. Just somehow rent or buy it and watch. Just watch.
Like Farenheight 9/11 -- but actually JOURNALISTIC
If you are a relatively fair-minded, documentary/movie-loving individual who is a little concerned (even upset) by the current political climate of the United States or even the world at-large -- the possibility of international or domestic terrorism hits close to home for you, the consolidation of world economies under the treaties of the EU, AU, or NAFTA make you think there's a bigger and bigger gap growing every day between the rich and poor, and if you think that America (the most loved, hated, feared, and admired country in the world today) is the source for a lot of these problems -- then "Unprecedented" will almost beyond a shadow of a doubt confirm everything seedy and corrupt you thought went down in politics but could never prove.
You may not be a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or conservative -- you may just know liars and/or murderers when you see them. You may or may not vote, and you may or may not be active on political or social issues that mean a lot to you. No matter where you stand (or don't stand) on politics, this documentary is for you. It will no doubt prove to you that the currently Republican-dominated U.S. government is a direct cause of many of America's problems domestically and internationally. I'm talking primarily about the Bush Administrations: In Florida (my home state), Texas, and in 2000 the entire United States.
This documentary, when I saw it in 2002, outraged me... And if you're paying attention, it'll outrage you, too.
Control Room (2004)
Made me want to be a journalist/documentary filmmaker
I don't, on average, give anything a 10 out of 10. Control Room, however, I simply cannot praise enough. If there were ever a quintessential journalistic document to point to 100 years down the road and say: "THAT was what it was like in the world, sonny boy," this documentary would be it. It will make you feel differently about journalistic objectivity, terrorism, mortality, and (most importantly) the world outside the United States. I wish every U.S. citizen (the ones who vote anyway) could see this documentary. If it grossed half as much money as Farenheight 9/11 -- the world would be a better, more critically minded place.
We could all be journalists, and we could all keep our world in check. You can, too. SEE THIS MOVIE. ACT ON WHAT YOU BELIEVE.
Almost Famous (2000)
One of my favorite movies of all time
This movie, along with "School of Rock" and "This is Spinal Tap," makes up a triumvirate of rock 'n' roll movies that will be passed on from generation to generation. Mark my words.
If you love rock 'n' roll -- TRULY love rock 'n' roll -- then you will love this movie. In fact, if you are a music journalist, or even have aspirations to be one (like myself) then you will love this movie even more. Besides, in what other rock 'n' roll movie (that is, one not made by Cameron Crowe) can a mother quote Goethe to her son, and still be so authentically rock 'n' roll? There is no other movie that can pull that off. I'm glad Crowe won a screen writing Oscar for this movie, and while I'm not a fan of Kate Hudson winning a Golden Globe, she was cast well for this part. 10/10
Donnie Darko (2001)
People... Calm down.
For a debut film... It's a good DEBUT film. But put all of this into perspective, people. The hype behind this movie is really getting out of hand. This kind of art-film-for-idiot-teenagers movie (Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite, etc.) makes so many peoples' (and even critics') top 10s, that it's just completely made Donnie Darko into a better film than it is.
Just watch the damn thing and you'll see that it's a first-time director with a lot of mistakes to make (a Deus Ex Machina in your first film dude?), a fair amount of money, not a lot of time, but a whole lot of potential that, somehow, I don't think he's going to live up to with his next 3 films -- considering the frenzy surrounding him.
It seems to me that the only reason most people own this movie is because it was $9.99 at Best Buy, and their friends told them to do so. I find it incredulous that this movie is in the IMDb top 100. Those of you who voted this movie a 9 or 10 need to get your cinematic head off of your hype boner (or out of your hype-filled ass, whichever is funnier). 7/10
The School of Rock (2003)
If you don't love this movie... You might not have a soul.
This movie as a bunch of little kids in it... And they play rock 'n' roll. Can anyone argue against that? Anyone who does looks like Ebeneezer Scrooge! "School of Rock," quite simply, combines the most joyous parts of rock 'n' roll music, a little bit of satire from Spinal Tap (perhaps), and a genuinely touching rock story about following your dreams -- from Almost Famous.
The three films I just named are at a ridiculous, stupid three-way tie for my favorite non-foreign language, non-documentary, major studio movie of all time. It's just that simple. You have Richard Linklater, unarguably the most versatile director living today, and Mike White, who is proving himself to be an insufferably clever screenwriter. Maybe not brilliant, but he's got some solid screenplays under his belt, and he works really well with Jack Black.
Sure, if I put a comment like this on "Mulholland Drive" (like many idiots have) or some other silly (yet admittedly enjoyable) art-house movie, I might seem way more sophisticated; and if I put a comment like on "Control Room" (which I really like as a journalistic documentation) I'd seem more intelligent. I'm also pretty sure that if I qualified foreign language movies and put Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love" or Jean-Jacques Beineix's "Betty Blue" on my list, I'd look way, way cooler. But who cares? There is so much joy to be had in this movie, it's impossible not to smile while watching it. In fact, I was so filled with joy when I first saw it, I honestly cried. That's how much I love this movie.