Catching Up with Family: “Toni Erdmann” (2016, d: M. Ade), “20th Century Women” (2016, d: M. Mills), “Red Turtle” (2016, d: M. Dudok de Wit)

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I saw all three of these movies in about a one-week period, then wasted a lot of time before sitting down to write about them. That’s my thing now! It seems a bit lazy to collapse them together, but I honestly think about all three of them of them together — for me, they feel like meditations on tones I feel within each other.

I didn’t see Mike Mills “Beginners,” even though I wanted to. I have good friends who have seen it multiple times and love it…but at some point I heard it was really sad, and my anxiety kicked in. “I don’t know if you can handle a really sad movie,” my anxiety will tell me. “What if you start crying and then never stop crying and then you die from crying???” I know most people would hear their anxiety say that and be able to say “Anxiety, shut the fuck up, ok?” but I hear it and I process it the same way I do when anxiety tells me not to see some scary movies because I might die from fright.

That’s relevant here, because I saw the trailer for “20th Century Women” a half dozen times in the theater, and the trailer shows Dorothea (Annette Bening) telling  Annie (Greta Gerwig) that Annie has special access to Dorothea’s son. “You get to see him out in the world as a real person. I never will.” — every time I saw that trailer, I’d think “Don’t do it…you know it’s coming, just don’t do it” and every time I saw that line I’d break down and tears would start streaming down my face. I almost didn’t see the movie as a result … my anxiety would just point to those tears and laugh.

That line, though! It somehow pulled all my parental fear and sadness down into one pithy drip. I don’t want my son to grow up without me! I don’t want to think about my son’s life without me! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to cry until I die from crying! All three of these movies deal with family and growing old and being alone in very different ways, and their approaches end up coloring how I think about the movies themselves. I guess the other thing they have in common is that they’re all holdovers from 2016 that didn’t make it to SF theaters until the last month or so — and each could have taken a spot on my list of favorite films from last year, they’re all pretty great.

“Toni Erdmann” and “20th Century Women” are more directly connected in tone and subject — they’re two of the funniest films I’ve seen in the theater in awhile, and they both feature eccentric parents who are struggling to connect with their aging (and estranging) children. They split from there, however, folding in other commentary and layers on top of those attempts to connect. I’m a defeated corporate lackey by day, and I loved the paper cut by paper cut assault on corporate behaviors in “Toni Edmann.” In that film, an unrepentant goof of a father struggles to connect with an adult daughter who has sacrificed her personal life and personality for corporate success. I appreciated the subtle imagery at play to convey the film’s Foucauldian “who’s really crazy?” questions, but it’s really the acting and subtle decay of Sandra Hüller’s Ines that really takes the film to the next level — by the time she physically reveals herself to her fellow corporate cellmates, the viewer has watched her slowly unwrap and unfold without even realizing how far she’s moved.

“20th Century Women” is a bit more conventional in its coming-of-age story — where Winifried/Toni helps his older daughter mature and appreciate life, Dorothea is instead helping her son navigate adolescence…definitely well covered ground. And where Peter Simonischek’s Winifried/Toni is able to push his eccentric personality into unexpecting corners, Dorothea’s less-mainstream aspects are getting pretty straight. That tension gets expressed repeatedly as Dorothea tries to find footing in familiar but unfamiliar territory — hammered home with some kinda heavy imagery of old cars getting renovated with new engines, an old falling apart house that’s getting restored, etc. But hey, I’m a sucker for ideas about “getting older” that don’t mean “growing up” and the idea that you can live your whole life without “growing up” if you do it right — that probably marks my own appreciation of these movies more than anything else. As with “Toni”, the acting is great here, especially Greta Gerwig in a role (late 70s punk rock feminista) that could have easily been an eyeroller (just as Peter Simonischek as Toni Erdmann could easily have been a broad groaner).

Finally, “Red Turtle” is a totally different fable but seeing it with my family likely helped to emphasize some of the onscreen family relationships differently than if I had seen it alone — or maybe I’m just obsessed with thinking about my family and feel some need to always relate texts to my own reality. In the film, a shipwrecked man creates his own paradise on a desolate island, before attempting to flee back to civilization. Those attempts to return are thwarted by spoiler events, however, causing him to stay on the island where he eventually creates a family.

As I was watching his attempt to escape the island, my six-year old son leaned over and whispered “Why is he trying to leave, right? It’s perfect there!” A running fantasy in our family is escaping to a Mexico beach town and never returning, so no real surprise that Archie quickly picked up on that thread in “Red Turtle” — and the family threesome of the film does relate well to our own threesome, especially the big strong and adventurous patriarchal figure. It feels weird to not point out that the appeal of this silent animated film is just how beautiful it is — the look and feel of the movie manages to be simple and nearly gestural while feeling detailed and overwhelmingly beautiful. The animation of simple ocean waves feels completely realistic in a way I’ve never seen before while at the same time looking very unrealistic as an actual rendering of “water.” There are moments of loss and fear of loss that connect with “Toni Edrmann” and “20th Century Women,” however, the family in “Red Turtle” comes apart as the child grows and leaves the island. There’s less drama, however, the film’s characters don’t transform into onscreen clowns or start going to punk shows in their desperate attempts to keep things intact — there’s a current of acceptance and flow in “Red Turtle” that doesn’t really allow for those frustrations, making it the most chill endpoint for all this family drama.

2017, Part Deux

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[obligatory text noting what a good start I’m off to by letting a week go between my Part 1 and Part 2 entries to wrap up the last four months of non-writing]

Other things I saw while I was away that seem noteworthy…

“Moonlight” (d: Barry Jenkins). I admit that while I really liked “Moonlight” when I saw it, I kind of did so with a bit of a shrug. There was *a lot* of hype about it, and it’s such a quiet, personal film that the loud hype seemed a little out of balance with the reality of my viewing. I saw it when it opened here in SF, a little more than a week before our country shit the bed and called it a presidential election. As the fallout of that election continues to fester and pollute, I admit that “Moonlight” has really grown in my mind. I don’t have anything concrete to point to, but suffice to say that a very structured meditation on black male sexual difference seems like a fading relic from a different era at this point. Recalling it now brings back some of the hope and optimism I had felt over the past decade as well as the police violence and racial hatred that continually kept that optimism in check. It’s a great movie, I hope it and others like it don’t disappear.

“Krisha” (d: Trey Edward Shults). I didn’t see this one in the theater, I wasn’t quite as on top of my game when it briefly flicked into an SF theater this spring. It’s free for Amazon Prime watchers, so when it buzzed around a bit on year-end wrap-ups, I gave it a shot. Krisha Fairchild is really good in the main role, and there’s a pretty solid depiction of the build-up of panic that can come from returning home or from an alien entering into a world where everything is familiar to its inhabitants but strange to the visitor. I just thought the climax and resulting downfall came on a little too forced and false to me — especially Krisha’s interaction with her estranged son (horribly played by the filmmaker himself!).

“Train to Busan” (d: Yeong Sang-ho). I’m tired of zombie stuff, especially as things like “Walking Dead” seem to be on some grosser-than-gross kick to take things to the next most disgusting and violent level. But I’m a sucker for Korean films, and was happy to dig into this “Zombies on a Train” flick. I gasped and cringed the whole time, it was a pretty fun ride filled with great characters, kickass action sequences, and, as hard as it is to believe, zombie stuff I had never seen before.

“The Witch” (d: Robert Eggers). Mostly making the cut here in a stream-of-consciousness way since I wish I’d seen “Train to Busan” in our halloween watching instead of “The Witch.” This got so many “scariest movie ever” hype blurbs when it hit the theaters, and to be fair…my problems with the movie are mostly due to that serious overhyping. It should have been marketed as a quiet and building supernatural movie with more in common with “Haxan” than “Blair Witch Project” … but I guess that wouldn’t have opened the film at #1 at the box office. Zzzzzz!

“Paterson” (d: Jim Jarmusch). Maybe the last thing I’ll include here? I saw much more, both in theater and at home, but this is tapping out my 2016 memory reserves (and to be fair…I didn’t see it until it opened here in 2017). A lot of fun, a little slight, but a really great time. I don’t think I could write a paper or a full-length review on it, but it was nice to sink into a comfy small-town blanket with charming characters and colors.

What am I missing???? IT’S BEEN FOUR MONTHS! Oh well…back to a regular schedule, right?

 

 

Whoa. 2017, huh?

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Oh boy. Man. I knew I had been putting off and putting off updates here, and then it just snowballed into a big deal where I got scared about coming back in here to post. Or even look around. Or even think about movies. But, damn! September 2016??? 4 months of silence? I’m shocked. SHOCKED!

Anyway…where to begin…

I don’t really get too into “end of year” lists, especially since those lists typically get filled with films that regular folks just don’t have access to. I appreciate that (jeez, I just had to look up how I was formatting film names on this site!) “Toni Erdmann” and “The Red Turtle” popped up on so many lists (and the former grabbed top spots from a bunch of the sites and critics I follow), but I live in a major metropolitan area with a strong arts scene…and those films still haven’t opened here (at least outside of the festival circuit). By the time I see those guys (and I’ve been hawking both for appearances in SF, I think “Red Turtle” finally has a limited run here in February), they’ll really feel like 2017 films to me. And there are some lists I follow where I wonder if I’ll even see those films in *2018*. Still, I can touch on some highlights of things I’ve seen over the past four months…even if it seems like a bit of a top-ten styled rundown.

In order of me remembering what I saw…

“Elle” (d: Paul Verhoeven). I don’t know why this pops into my head first, but it has definitely stayed with me since I saw it. I also don’t even know if I liked it. It’s got some great stuff happening… Isabelle Huppert is riveting, the locations are fantastic, the dialogue sparkles with wit, and there’s a cosmopolitan energy in the film that really feels great to bathe in for two hours. But there’s some rotten stuff at the core that’s really distasteful. Most of the movie centers around the tension between Michèle’s brash and ruthless exterior life and some desire to (eliding a bit here for spoilers and whatever) be dominated and punished in her private life. I felt that desire was way too wrapped up in male fantasy and the final pursuit of that desire really disgusted me so deeply that I don’t feel comfortable saying I liked the movie. But then…I kinda *did* like it, so…

“Manchester by the Sea” (d: Kenneth Lonergan). I was prepared for this one to really knock me out, in part due to some podcast hyping I’d heard but also all the buzz about Casey Affleck and whether or not his rapey behaviors should disqualify him from award show stuff. I saw Lonergan’s “You Can Count on Me” in the theater when it came out and liked it, but was clearly not at a point in my life where its gravity could have too much of an effect. I watched it again while waiting for “Manchester” to open here, and really had a deeper appreciation for it now that I’m a bit deeper in my “adult” life. Anyway…”Manchester.” It’s really good! The performances are great! The storyline knocked me out, I wasn’t expecting the big dips that send your stomach flying into your skull! I had heard that Michelle Williams delivers a killer monologue, and would say both “it’s not even a monologue, it’s so short” and “it destroyed me and even thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.” I don’t know why I’m not fully 100% committed to the idea of it being one of the best movies of the year, but suffice to say that I saw it a couple weeks after the presidential election and just don’t feel all that great celebrating the shitty decisions that working class rural Pennsylvania shitheads make, and the shitty aftermath that follows those shitty decisions.

“The Handmaiden” (d: Park Chan-Wook). It’s funny that this comes to mind third since there’s no questions about it’s rank in my head: It was the best film I saw last year. I saw all of these in the theater (and so far, all on the first day that they opened here), but this is the one that really stands out as a must-see on the big screen. Good thing I’m saying it months after the fact! It’s beautiful to look at, and again, performances and story were just knockouts. About half a point off my final score due to the squeezing in of one final unneeded twist, but that only drops my score to 9.5 weinerdogs out of 10 weinerdogs.

“Star Wars: Rogue One” (d: Gareth Edwards). I had so much more fun than I expected here, I kinda saw it as an afterthought a few weeks after it opened. I think I liked it more than “Force Awakens,” a movie that I thought was fun as well but benefitted from nostalgia and circumstance — I saw it opening weekend, in a packed house, with my son who was just getting into Star Wars (a chapter which seemingly ended after he saw “Force Awakens”). “Rogue One” is smarter, the action is incredible, and the stuff I hated the most about it were the things that slapped the viewer across the face to remind them that they were watching a Star Wars film.

“La La Land” (d: Damien Chazelle). I had high expectations for this one, of course. I can honestly stake some claim to very early Chazelle appreciation, having seen “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” super early in its festival run as well as interviewing him for its appearance at the 2009 AFI Fest. When we chatted about that film and our mutual love of musicals, technicolor and Jacques Demy, “La La Land” is the film I would have expected to come next from Chazelle. I like “Whiplash” (and “10 Cloverfield Lane”) just fine, but I did wonder what happened to the guy I’d chatted with. “La La Land” meets those original expectations and wraps it up with great Goslin/Stone charisma that makes it super tasty to swallow. It’s silly, it’s slight, it shouldn’t be the best film of the year or anything, but it’s probably the first film on this list that I could watch again with little prompting.

I’ll finish this in a Part Two. It took longer than I thought to get through these four…

“Blackhat” (2015, d: Michael Mann)

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In Michael Mann’s “Blackhat,” an imprisoned computer hacker (Eddie Murphy Chris Hemsworth) is freed from jail to help Nick Nolte track down his former partner-in-crime to help his former roommate track an international team of computer hackers/pirates/bad guys/terrorists. The trail leads them across countries, splintering international allegiances, and creating interpersonal drama, ending with a lot of bullets, blood and blow-ups.

I’m a lifelong Michael Mann fan. I’m not a fairweather fan who swarmed around his sudden (fleeting?) appreciation in the mid-aughts, I’m the fan who has seen all his films (except this one!) in the theater, who has rented 35mm prints of his films to show other people, has emailed the guy, has bought films like “Thief” across multiple formats (VHS! Laserdisc! DVD! Blu-Ray! Criterion Blu-Ray!), loves “Miami Vice” non-ironically, etc. etc. etc. So it’s a little odd that I’ve been avoiding “Blackhat” for so long. I was planning on seeing it in the theater, but it flopped so badly that I didn’t get to the theater in time … and then the stink of that flop probably kept me away for awhile as well.

On paper, I knew it seemed suspect. How do you make compelling drama and action about a hacker gaining access to a nuclear reactor’s servers? At worst, I knew it would be like “Hackers” — dropping in a bunch stylized animation to simulate computer infiltration. At best I figured it would be like “War Games” — adding a lot of guns and chases to make things more sexy. But this is Michael Mann. Adding guns and stylized animation and chases, how much more awesome could things get?

The answer is a pretty fun mish-mosh of great stuff that doesn’t always make sense (look no further than Chris Hemsworth’s hacker-cum-ninja act where he takes down an entire army of scary mercenaries with his bare hands) but is done well enough that you never care. If it was just a regular movie, I’d give it a thumbs-up, but this is Michael Mann so I thought it might be worth doing a checkdown of typical Mann stuff that you’ll find in “Blackhat” — that alone should help most realize it’s worth checking out half a dozen times or so:

  • Tough talk conducted over a restaurant table (multiple occurrences)
  • Close-ups of media devices and screens (tons)
  • Helicopter shots
  • Helicopter shots of highways
  • Helicopter shots of cityscapes
  • Helicopter shots of other helicopters
  • Brooding score
  • Pulsing electronic score
  • Brooding and pulsing score
  • Meticulous adherence to bizarre color palette and gels, gels, gels
  • Women making sacrifices for men
  • “Work rules everything around me” attitudes for the men
  • Cars
  • Diners
  • Street food and markets
  • Shifting digital focus
  • Heavy artillery
  • Even heavier sound design on that heavy artillery
  • Speedboats
  • Meetings viewed through binoculars
  • People on buildings looking at other people on buildings

What more could you possibly want?!?

I watched “Blackhat” on a very cheap used Blu-Ray. You should too, it looked amazing. 

Couples Counseling: “Make Way for Tomorrow” (1937, d: Leo McCarey)

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-4-53-58-pmIn this depression-era film, an elderly couple reveals to their adult children that they are losing their home, setting about a depressing series of events as the children attempt to accommodate their parents into their own difficult households. Leo McCarey called this his best film, famously deriding the Academy when they awarded him a “Best Director” Oscar for “The Awful Truth” (also released in 1937,) claiming they were recognizing the wrong film.

Fredoluv: So, Mrs Fredoluv. What did you think of “Make Way for Tomorrow?”

Mrs. Fredoluv: Well … it didn’t go where I expected it to go.

Fredoluv: How so? Did you think “Fredoluv picked this, so I’m guessing these old dudes start learning Kung Fu, soon”?

Mrs. Fredoluv: No. I thought it would be more screwball, less nihilistic. It was so sad!

Fredoluv: I knew it wouldn’t be a comedy, because the few things I had read would start off saying “Leo McCarey (‘Duck Soup’, ‘Awful Truth’) directed this, but it’s not a comedy.” It’s pretty bleak, but still has sort of a light touch, right?

Mrs. Fredoluv: Well it kinda is like “look, we’re going to give these elderly people the time no one else will give them. You will listen to their full conversation on what day they went to aquarium. ‘Was it Tuesday or was it Wednesday?’” It’s very sweet.

Fredoluv: I liked that part of the movie much more. I think maybe because it’s a little harder to find your footing in the other family scenes — like, I wanted to condemn the children, but I felt bad for them as well. The worst children are basically unseen — the kids who have money or space and don’t offer it to the parents.

Mrs. Fredoluv: Yeah that’s true. The one scene where the grandma and the mother argue about the granddaughter’s actions was interesting because there wasn’t anyone who was firmly in the right. It was very ambivalent — which was surprising too that there was no strong take that kids should definitely take care of their parents.

Fredoluv: Yeah, or the scenes of the grandmother (and the discussion beforehand) at the bridge lesson. Like, “yeah, the grandmother shouldn’t interfere with her daughter-in-law’s livelihood … but at the same time, she shouldn’t have to ‘hide'”

Mrs. Fredoluv: Right. By the way, what happened with that daughter? What was the fuss about?

Fredoluv: That was a little weird, I don’t know what ended up happening. Did she come back?

Mrs. Fredoluv: I think she didn’t come home overnight. Then someone called the grandma/mother with a juicy tip, the content of which led the grandma to tell her secret. Then the daughter came home, not to any fanfare, she was just on a couch in a later scene.

Fredoluv: I missed her coming home, completely. The whole subplot, it went from “the mom is okay with the daughter having her independence, but will pretend that she’s not so that grandma will go with her to the movies” to “this daughter is an out of control child.”

Mrs. Fredoluv: Despite the confusion leading up to that moment between mother and grandmother, I found that moment very poignant. When the grandmother is like “You’re upset so there’s no hard feelings for you yelling at me”…

Fredoluv: Yeah, it was a really good scene!

Mrs. Fredoluv: …and the look on the mother’s face was a total mix of “Yes, it’s too much to blame you for all of this, yet I’m still so pissed at you.”

Fredoluv: The grandmother’s “I understand where this is coming from, and it’s not really related to me but you can unload on me” bit was really touching. Did you know that the actors who played the oldies were actually like 50?

Mrs. Fredoluv: What the hell?

Fredoluv: It was all makeup. Pretty cool, huh?

Mrs. Fredoluv: That was pretty good makeup…

Fredoluv: The woman was actually 46!

Mrs. Fredoluv: But back to end where they just walk through the city. I kept expecting a “Thelma and Louise” ending where they’re just…

Fredoluv: Driving off the cliff in that dude’s car?

Mrs. Fredoluv: No. Just walking down a NYC street and it ends on a freeze frame. Or when they’re in the hotel and he invites her to dance and they walk onto the ballroom floor…

Fredoluv: And they fall off a cliff?

Mrs. Fredoluv: No! Freeze frame! Because I couldn’t see where the film was going. What last minute revelation would there be?

Fredoluv: That’s funny that you were expecting something that abrupt. I figured it would end at the train station, but was still surprised by how abrupt it was. Maybe the film should have “melted”?

Mrs. Fredoluv: I thought, “this lightweight CHC film really couldn’t end so sadly?” It had to. That was their life. There was no happy resolution to be found.

Fredoluv: I liked those scenes in the city for a different reason as well. During the front half of the movie, I was a little frustrated by how stodgy the film’s style was. it was really like “this is a filmed stage play” but then those guys leave the apartment and somehow they become … “ALIVE!

Mrs. Fredoluv: Yes, it was totally a stage play in the son’s apartment.

— Grandma moves to background as mother moves to foreground
— Grandma turns to the right, phone rings.

But the NY part was really sweet.

Fredoluv: Yeah, I felt like that style shift made it even sweeter. “These people are together, and there’s now sky above them.”

Mrs. Fredoluv: And like i said earlier, a lot of it had no point in moving the plot forward. It really was just like a homage to old people.

Fredoluv: Also … what was going on with the excessive film grain? It seemed like it had been added or something!

Mrs. Fredoluv: We should read the liner notes.

Fredoluv: Like in order to bring clarity or sharpen the image, they had to add grain.

Mrs. Fredoluv: Although, insider tip: I wouldn’t necessarily trust Criterion’s liner notes.

Fredoluv: Why?

Mrs. Fredoluv: [REDACTED! A bunch of juicy behind the scenes stuff about Criterion’s shenanigans that Mrs. Fredoluv has witnessed!]

[20 Minutes Later]

Mrs. Fredoluv: Don’t say any of this on your site.

Fredoluv: I’ll cloak it so our 5 readers won’t see it. Anyway, I don’t like reading their teeny-tiny print, so I was just going to look for a bonus feature on restoration on the disc. I wanted to do it after we watched it, but was in such a hurry to squeeze in British Baking Show episode before bedtime that I didn’t.

Anyway. The film looked like garbage. I don’t think Criterion deserves their reputation anymore after seeing the garbage look of this film.

Mrs. Fredoluv: You can’t always make something great.

Fredoluv: Oh, I also liked the car salesman. He was pretty chill about them wasting his time like that. Say…maybe we should put on old person makeup and see if we can get some free shit.

Mrs. Fredoluv: All the people at the end were nice to them as a lesson for how we should treat the elderly. Not like their shitty family.

Fredoluv: Since you won’t comment on the garbage look of the movie… were you surprised I picked this for ‘Couples Counseling’? Just based on the last couple we’ve watched?

Mrs. Fredoluv: Yeah it was really different! They’re basically on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Fredoluv: Is it too early to talk about what we’ll do with our parents?

Mrs. Fredoluv: Probably not, but let’s not do it anyway.

Couples Counseling is a weekly feature where Mr & Mrs. Fredoluv watch a film together and discuss it together afterward. You can buy the Criterion Blu-Ray of “Make Way for Tomorrow” on Amazon, and support our site!

 

Short Cut: “Lo and Behold” (2016, d: Werner Herzog)

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Werner Herzog charts a history of technology from the internet through a proposed future of space exploration and Mars colonies in this wild and unruly series of 10 vignettes.

It might be because the film starts at such a linear starting block — Herzog’s first vignette is a showcase of the room where the internet was “born” on the UCLA campus — but I spent a lot of this documentary trying to figure out what argument Herzog is making. It’s a bit messy, there’s a lot of wild tendrils flying about, but it does seem like a consistent strand seems to be “we can’t anticipate the chaos or negative impacts that even our best intentions for technology hold at the beginning.” That thread doesn’t weave neatly through everything, but it’s certainly a theme. “We used to have a directory  of every internet user,” says one of the early internet guys. “If someone was doing something you didn’t like, you could call them. Or email them.” I’m paraphrasing, but it’s crazy that we go from that world of knowability and accountability to vignettes about blackhat espionage and griefing/trolling/cyberbullying, etc. For some of the vignettes, we’re at the precipice of those new technologies — robotics, space exploration, brain study — what negative impacts are we *not* aware of, what can’t we plan for?

By day, I play a technologist for Fortune 500 companies, so those types of questions are more in line with what I deal with on a day to day basis. The question of “what’s the worst that could happen” goes hand-in-hand with my other daily questions of “why do we need to solve [this problem] with technology?” or “what’s the fastest path we can take to use technology?” I don’t think Herzog exposes anything that’s particularly novel here, a lot of this stuff is fodder for mainstream news magazines or big-audience science-fiction films. Where Herzog is Herzog is in documenting the personalities and oddities at play here. There’s compelling imagery as a result — a group of buddhist monks convening by a Lake Michigan, all staring at their mobile phones or a family of goths staring morosly at an abundance of breakfast pastries as their wholesome parents discuss the death of a family member — but for better or worse Herzog spends a large amount of time with compelling oddball personalities. He holds camera shots until a scientist make an uncomfortable and awkward facial gesture, presses a robotics engineer until the engineer professes his “love” for a soccer playing robot, or locks the camera gaze on the android face of Elon Musk as Musk ponders a question (giving that face more screentime than Musk’s actual robotic answer). It works to capture the enthusiasm and opportunity that technology holds, but I also felt a little dirty at times knowing that I was maybe supposed to be chuckling at some of these people. And there’s times when Herzog being Herzog gets a little groanworthy. Watching scientists ponder questions like “does the internet dream” made me cringe a little.

I don’t think this film is going to live on in my imagination the way that Herzog’s best documentaries do, but it’s still a fun slice of where we are in 2016.

“Lo and Behold” is playing in theaters now.

 

 

 

Short Cut: “Don’t Think Twice” (2016, d: Mike Birbiglia)

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(Mrs. Fredoluv has pleaded with me to include more summary on my reviews. I personally don’t like a lot of summary with my reviews, so I try to shy on the side of now summary whatsoever — just my random thoughts about the movie. But since she might be my only reader…)

In comedian/monologuist/filmmaker Mike Birbiglia’s new film, an aging improv troupe is forced to deal with a number of existential dilemma’s when one of their ranks is chosen to become a featured performer on an iconic weekly live sketch comedy show. 

Okay? I don’t really want to say more, because it’s gonna eat into my word count!

I was excited to see this movie. I like Birbigs’ stuff, for sure, but also it was like a peek into a world that I feel like I’ve gotten as close to as I can without actually participating in. One of my biggest regrets about my time living in Los Angeles was that I didn’t take improv classes at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theater, but I attended a lot of shows, had friends who went through the system, and worked at a start-up that developed a very close relationship with the theater. The latter was most key, I had a front row seat to some behind-the-scenes things, met all the UCB founders, blah blah blah. One of the things I’d chat with one of the founders about was the level of intimacy that podcasts created with listeners and hosts, and we both felt that the video chat start-up that linked us could bridge that even further. We worked with a bunch of people that are in this movie (including one of the principals, Chris Gethard), and that combined with the intimacy that podcasts and in-person shows bring it feels like I knew other cast members just as deeply.

Anyway, outside of the improv comedy world, I felt like these are archetypes that could exist anywhere. I’m assuming that most of us have had a friend who’s “made it” in some sense, and has been pulled in different professional and personal ways as a result. I definitely knew a lot of talented people who didn’t make it, either through their own inability to pull their shit together or through their own perfectionism or through simply being afraid to take chances — some of my closest friends have fallen into that grouping, either missing opportunities to advance their careers or just participate in personal growth as a result. Those bittersweet experiences of success and failure helped me appreciate “Don’t Think Twice,” I’m not sure if it’s a good movie or a bad movie since most of the time I was just struck with feelings of “I know a person like this” or “I remember when this happened to someone” — it felt real, even in its most goofy improv’ed out moments, and the great cast are able to take that real feeling and push it into their super likeable and warm characters. Seeing those characters merge with each other, push each other’s creative processes, spark personal growth, etc. just felt incredibly poignant and honest.I had a lot of warm fuzzies and nostalgic feelings afterward, a really great time at the movies.

One thing that didn’t land was Mike Birbigs sadsack resentful character. I’m sure that has ties to reality (well, for one, I can think of people I’ve met through the above improv connections that intersect), but Miles just went a bit too far. One of my friends tweeted “As a 36 year old, I’m a little offended by ‘Don’t Think Twice’s’ depiction of 36 year olds,” and I think that’s pretty accurate. I was a late bloomer, so I’ll defend 36 year olds in general, but the negative trappings that we’re supposed to laugh at or tsk at just didn’t feel fair to me. Still living in a studio apartment? Single? Not hit his career apex yet? It all seemed a bit overplayed just to make the character more desperate.

“Don’t Think Twice” is currently playing at your local cinema, if you live in a city that has a couple screens dedicated to arthouse fare.