My only complaint (and perhaps a bit of filmmaker bias here) was that I found the music to be cloying and melancholic, although many other people liked it.
(Note that this review is also on my blog.)
Starting with the basics, it is competently constructed (shooting it well into the top 10,000 films this year). It was clearly shot on low-budget equipment judging by the picture and sound quality, but it was done professionally. The camera work is well framed, pretty stable, and well lit. The audio was handled with supplemental recording so it doesn't sound like an in-camera mic.
Then there's the acting, direction, and editing which is also reasonably good (now into the 3,000s or so). The film has a meandering but deliberate pace that could be tuned up a bit, but it works. The movie is watchable and you can get lost in the world that's created.
And finally the story and overall experience is, you know, worth a gander. It's not going to be played all over the world to blockbuster lines of people, but if you're hanging out on a rainy day, it's a movie worthy of a couple hours.
One thing I liked was that the actors were more "average sized" so-to-speak. By Hollywood standards, most of them would be the "fat friend", but Hollywood standards are, well, kind of weird, you know? What's quite wonderful is that the film pays absolutely no attention to this fact. These are just normal people getting into and out of relationships.
I thought the story was pretty engaging—I didn't know who was going to end up dating whom—but I thought it got a bit daunting keeping track of the incidental dates and additional characters, trying to remember who was a main character and who was on the side.
In the end, though, it's a nice enough movie. I'm not going to say that this was awesome and you "have to see it". It's a nice story with likable characters who are a lot more down-to-earth than what we're used to seeing on the big screen.
Rappmund's anti-temporal filmmaking techniques (where he looped sequences-of-images and time-lapse photography which created a timelessness, and used overlapped field-recordings to carry the chronological narrative) led me to experience the border as something intensely futile, intensely irrational, and intensely beautiful. It was disconcerting to me to see all this technology and effort dedicated to creating suffering. But by the end, I found myself at peace with all of it. One thing that helped was the timeless quality of the film which implied a longer-term view — that this silliness is all temporary.
(This review is largely taken from my own blog.)
Kudos to Bell for humorously broaching the subject of male-dominance in the voice-over field. But my praise ends there. I found that every single character was written as a shrill fast-talker no matter their age, gender, or background. It was insufferable, and the cheap writing continued: pivotal plot points hinged on unrealistically stupid coincidences. For instance, Carol can't get a date with the guy who has a crush on her ("Mary Sue" much?) because someone interrupts her cell phone call and he's confused about who she's talking to. Just dumb, lazy writing. I left when her sister's boyfriend finds the (telegraphed) evidence he didn't want to know.
(Note: this review appears on my own blog.)
I felt like the movie was a joke on the bourgeoisie of the film world the art-house film-goers who chafe themselves with their furious masturbation. Yes: the film turns the focus of the story onto the least interesting parts, and as such it is an example of how to not make an interesting film. However, the resulting product is one to be endured for the sake of bragging that you "really understand what the artist is getting at". It reminded me a lot of the garbage that Andy Warhol produced: more things to antagonize the masses and create a self-aggrandizing class of people who celebrate an artist who's courageous enough to deliberately produce junk.
I'm not sure, though: the poem is so strong in its own written/spoken medium that to add visuals does not do it justice. I think it needs to be significantly adapted to screen to make it work -- simply adding solid visuals to a solid telling somehow fails to get to the heart of the tale.
It speaks of the horrors of our modern lives. It speaks of the things in each of our pasts that hold us back -- the subtle and the dramatic traumas that choke off the capacity to live our lives, demanding our attention to try and solve the unsolvable puzzle of how to unchain our present selves from the past. The answer is to change ourselves to accept what happened, but that's not such an easy path.
Thus, there is an empty building where we relive our fantasies and hash out that acceptance. Where we can go to embrace ourselves and our past selves and our successes and our failures. It's where those demons live and where we can look them straight in the eye and say goodbye.
Ordinarily, "warmth" means that the actors, director, and crew have done their job to create a theatrical experience that simulates "emotional warmth." In this case, however, it feels much more genuine.
It's the warmth you feel when you get a gift from your best friend that says they really know you as opposed to the "warmth" of getting exactly what you asked for on your Christmas list.
But it's this warmth that's much harder to analyze because it is not carefully calculated.
In addition, Drivers Wanted ends up feeling complete but not perfect. It's someone's creation that they completed as far as it needed to be.
They didn't hire a crew to come in and apply a dozen coats of paint and polish it to a glass-like shine -- while that result is appealing and good, there is also merit in an artwork that is deemed "finished" by the artist but for which the audience knows it could be done differently.
Having met the director on several occasions, let me add that this film is a reflection of his personality. And it's probably that which gives it its warm feel most of all.
My take on it is that, on the one hand, it touches on the "homophobia means you're a closeted homosexual," but it also explores the way teenage boys "discovering" girls conflicts with boyhood friendships.
It's about a couple teenage boys and a girl. One of them starts dating a girl, and the other is jealous. But jealous of what? That he's dating? or for his attention? Does this make him gay? Somewhat bi-sexual? These questions lead to a commentary on society: why would such feelings be bad, and lead a person to lash out against others? A society that says, "it's right to be straight and wrong to be gay" just may be at fault for this kind of behavior ... but you can decide for yourself.
In Matt's other shorts, he has relied on a consistent formula: get in, be funny, get out. "Autobank" is the best example of this, and "Lunch" adds on several layers of punchlines to make things funny. "Who's Your Daddy?" seemed as stiff and lifeless to me as the joke to other viewers of using the words "stiff and lifeless" to describe the central flaw. I mean, he gets to the reveal too quickly--answering the titular question--then dawdles around the point for a few minutes before getting to the final punchline.
I don't know ... I'm being fairly harsh on it. It's still a funny short and demonstrates a great skill of comedic timing through editing and directing--something few directors possess.
See, if someone told you they saw a movie about hopping freights, you might expect to see a bunch of details about the mechanics of the process, like getting past security, where to eat, where to sleep, and how to ride, with some details about several of the people. Catching Out does the opposite and touches on the details only tangentially as it closely examines the personalities of several riders. In some respects, it attempts to answer the question of "why" much more deeply than that of "how."
I guess it's not really "why" that is asked, but what is living?-what is freedom? Most of us just assume that the only way to live is within the gilded cage of society. We're offered limited freedoms and security, and pay with this intangible thing we like to call "responsibility." Before I go off on that too far, let me just ask why do we own anything at all? I mean, consider that you should just be able to go into the woods and make a little shack and eat food that grows in the area-so, to whom, exactly, does your money go to when you pay for your shelter? What exactly is responsibility anyway? Is it worth it?
The film compares the collective knowledge of the audience to the selective experiences of the subjects. That is, most people live life according to the "normal" societal rules (otherwise, everyone would be hopping freights, right?) On the other hand, if you spend your life sitting on freight trains moving from town to town, what's your life like? It's interesting to see the absence of discussion about things that concern the rest of us: money, job, home, career, retirement, taxes, television, movies, etc. Without any of that, what's there to talk about?
I also liked the methods employed. Most of the documentary structure repeats the introduction of another person then alternates between the primary interview and, usually, footage of the landscape out the doors of freight cars. It's unbelievable to see the scenery where there is no reason for commercialization. It's like a "reverse action photograph," in a way: the subject is stationary but the photographer is racing along. There's also several stellar examples of rail-oriented time-lapse photography used to punctuate the segments.
Oh, and the music was expertly selected and top-notch as well.
This film explores those options and, interestingly, leaves it to the audience to decide on the evidence presented. Shelby Lee Adams presents his case well as the photographer, but it is clear that the subjects of his pictures are not aware of the subtler influences of outside society on the content of the pictures.
In all, a great film to watch if you're interested in perceptions.
"In America," on the other hand, is more like "It's a Wonderful Life." In both films, the characters have their own drives and motivations. The point of each is to create a plausible world where the hopeful dimension of the human spirit can be explored.
I found it useful that the characters were based on real people. Each of them had their own drives and motivations outside the context of the main point of the storyline. Fully-formed characters through extensive back-story is a necessity for bringing an audience a truly empathetic experience. I feel that "In America" succeeds in this respect.
I found myself really caring about the characters. I was pleased to find myself forgetting that I was watching actors on a screen, and instead, that I was experiencing the events as they unfolded. An impressive feat for a style of film that I'm usually very critical of.
If you happen to catch the movie at some point, check it out. I think that this plotline of a parable of opposites finding something valuable in one another has been done many times in the past and this particular example doesn't shine bright enough above the rest. Don't get me wrong, it's an okay movie overall, and an above average example of the genre--just not an exceptional example.
Sister Helen herself is a remarkable character, coming from tragedy in her own life to being an unusual combination of caring, tough, and street smart. The way the film introduces us to her past is excellent, spending only a few carefully selected minutes sprinkled throughout.
In all, I can't begin to correctly heap on praise for this film. It really is a treasure of cinema and the subject a treasure of humanity.
If you get a chance to see it, do so and add your own comments.
And what was this brilliant idea?
Film a bunch of drug users and couples in various rooms of a hotel then project two films at a time side-by-side, shifting the audio to switch focus.
Doesn't that sound amazingly fresh and cool?
Don't answer yet! You also get:
- randomly twitchy camera work
- quasi-purposeful film speed changes
- having the camera's point-of-interest fail to follow the viewer's desires
- racking the zoom
- sluggish response to bad focus after changing camera positions
- over- and under-exposure
Now how much would you pay?
With your average film you'd get three or four reels, but with this, you get _12 reels!_ Plus, you get sketchy instructions on when to do transitions and change projectors, putting _you in the driver seat!_
Operators are standing by.
To elaborate, there are three things I think are key to making this film as good as it is:
First, the entire feel of the picture is documentary-like. You're presented with a chronology of events about a young woman living with heroin addiction on the streets--I found it particularly remarkable that it does not beg for pity ... it really doesn't force any emotions at all, but simply offers the subject matter honestly for the observation and judgment of the viewer. Unlike most directors of this and other charged subjects, Rosemary Rodriguez chose to present the subject in an almost matter-of-fact manner.
Second ... wait: for these last two points let me just say that I have no experience whatsoever with heroin or any other drug, so my opinion is tainted with copious ignorance. ... Second, I was stunned at the realism of the drug use in the film. I really believed the people in the film were using heroin and that each of them responded in a manner consistent with how I thought they should. There wasn't even a hint of the fantasy world of drug use propagated by movies like Reefer Madness.
Finally, Ana Reeder was amazing. There was not a frame of footage when I thought I was watching an actress. I swear this girl was hooked on heroin and actually was living the life of her character. I am generally fascinated by the craft of acting, but once in a while I am confronted with a scene like the climactic breakdown of Alix where it is beyond my comprehension altogether how someone can possibly act that true to life but really be acting.
The film is well produced, acted, and set, but the plot is way too predictable (even if you've never heard the story before.) A bit of a twist would have been nice.
Nonetheless, if you get a chance to see this, it'd be worth a look. Certainly a positive work for all the crew to include in their portfolios.
There's one shot in a laundromat which the imagery is blatant but it just makes a perfect photograph which would have had me in the theater during first run (I saw it cheap at a second run theater yesterday) had it been used in the promotions.
However, like all romantic comedies, I didn't like the ending. This is a trend for most romantic comedies I've seen...
Ok, so here's the deal--what gives with these kinds of movies always ending with the idea that it's best to (1) defy your heart, and (2) everything is best if you do what's expected of you. Yaahhhhk! Isn't the most rewarding part of living the growth we experience by pushing ourselves beyond the bounds of our personality?
Ok, 'nuff said. Overall I would recommend it as a rainy-day rental since it's quite enjoyable to watch and only a couple times do people do things which make you beg them to not be so dang stupid.