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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Dito Montiel's 'BOULEVARD' - A Review

It's 2.00am and I'm exhausted but I need to tell you about this film I just saw at the Tribeca Film Festival

I was excited about Robin Williams returning to television with 'The Crazy Ones', but could never quite get into that show. And the world is currently buzzing about the prospect of a 'Mrs Doubtfire' sequel, but if you really want to see Robin Williams excel, you need to see him in 'Boulevard'.


Dito Montiel's debut feature, 'A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints' was about youthful energy, exuberance and pain. 'Boulevard' feels like what comes years later, when you wake up 60 years old and realise you've closed your eyes for all of your life. 

Robin Williams is so heartbreaking in this movie. In real life he's manic and hilarious, but he's also a very deep guy who's had many troubles. It's in all too rare roles like this where his complexity really shines. 

And not through any big acting moments. It's all in the subtlety. It's all in his eyes. And Montiel is wise enough as a director to just get out of the way - to let his actors steal the scenes.

The first person I ever interviewed on this blog was Jake Pushinsky, who has edited all of Montiel's movies. When we first got in touch he'd only cut a handful of movies, now he's a seasoned pro and this is some of his best work yet. I feel like making movies is much like managing a sports team. It's tempting to go out and sign new people every year, but the best results come when you find the players who suit your system, and build a team around them.

Robin Williams excels in this because of the directing and because of the editing. And the music - wow. The music is hypnotic. It draws you into the world of the movie to the point where you feel you're sitting in the room with the actors. Credit again to more of the director's long term collaborators, David Wittman and Jimmy Haun. Wittman's music in particular I have always loved -- he creates these melancholy, tender pieces, that permeate through the most important scenes in all of Dito's projects. 

I just love it when a movie clicks. When it all feels like it's in the right place. It's precisely what I felt didn't happen with Montiel's previous film, 'Empire State' - which is the only film of his I've not enjoyed. But with 'Boulevard', it all comes together wonderfully. Here are some highlights: 

KATHY BAKER - You could be forgiven for thinking she's just sleepwalking through this film. But then towards the end, during a confrontation with Nolan (Williams) she let's it all out. But not in some over-the-top-way. When I say she let's it all out; I'm overstating it, because she also holds a lot in. We see a woman who has made compromises, and who has secrets of her own. Baker nails it. 

ROBERTO AGUIRE - Had never heard of him before. Plays one the main characters in the movie. We always feel there's more to him and his background than is being let on. Credit to Aguire for his convincing turn as the difficult and troubled Leo. 

BOB ODENKIRK - Quietly hilarious throughout. Full of subtlety. (I realise I'm overusing the word subtlety in this review, but that's just how it's going to have to be).

ELEONORE HENDRICKS  - Another example of the filmmaker's loyalty. He's cast Hendricks time and again; and the difference between her in 'Saints' and her in 'Boulevard' shows her acting talent. 

ANGELA MESSINA - Great production design. Helps Robin Williams's character come to life among the drudgery of his bland home and cramped workspace. 

DOUGLAS SOESBE - The writer. Crafted a great story; unusual and deceptively slow-paced. A screenwriter whose tale is perfectly suited to the style of the director. 

I have purposefully not said much about the plot of the movie, because I'd love it if you were as surprised as I was. What should I tell you? Nolan Mack (Robin Williams) is a regular guy, with a regular job. He doesn't have a breakdown or anything. He just gets offered a promotion, and his wife wants to go on a cruise. As the prospect of getting even more trapped in a life that doesn't resonate with who he is dawns, mixed with his Dad being close to death; he faces up to the difficult truth of who he really is. 

This is a great movie that fulfills the promise Dito Montiel showed with 'A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints'. That movie was bursting with overt creativity and an onslaught of ideas. 'Boulevard' is more restrained, refined even. This is Dito Montiel but it's him ten years later. 

My favourite scene is a scene between Robin Williams and his father. It's a beautifully crafted scene that brings together all the things I've been talking about; delicate editing, nuanced music and the best acting Williams has done in decades. I can't tell you the content of the scene, because it would ruin the power of it when you see it. I'll refer to it as the 'beach' scene and those who have seen it will know what I'm talking about. Interestingly this scene was cut out of the movie until two weeks before the release. I talked to Douglas Soesbe, the writer; and he said it was partly his fault. The scene as written appeared earlier in the film, which took out a lot of the dramatic tension. For that reason, it was cut out -- only to reappear finally, later on in the edit. I'm glad it's back in, because the scene is incredibly moving. 

How well 'Boulevard' will do when released, only time will tell. I think it's more accessible than many of Montiel's recent films, including 'Son Of No-One' which was seen by absolutely no-one (but I loved it). Dito is a real artist and I'm glad that he's in the system making films, and with big talent like Robin Williams, too. Long may it continue, I can't wait to see what's next. 

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Saturday, 19 April 2014

WOODY ALLEN In FADING GIGOLO

What a fun film! We get to see Woody Allen being Woody Allen.


My favourite film of his is 'Manhattan Murder Mystery', because it's just so darn funny. The jokes fall out of his mouth like a breeze and you don't even realise he's making a joke until you notice that you are in absolute hysterics.

But Woody tends to hide from the fact he's one of the funniest people alive. He goes for complexity. That's fine, he's good at it, but things are really GOLD when he just goes for FUNNY.

'Fading Gigolo' is not a great movie. But every time Woody is on screen, things just lighten up. His facial expressions, his delivery, no-one can do what he does. No one at all. Incredible.

It just so happened that the screening I attended was full of people in their 60's and 70's. These were clearly Woody Allen fans. Like me, they know his humour, they know his work. And I think that's the key to appreciating Woody Allen,  it helps to know the work he's done in the past. It gives you an affection for his on screen persona. Things are funny because you feel like you know his characters and what they're going through.

In the early 2000's Woody decided he wasn't going to act as much any more. You can understand why; he's getting old and writing and directing is enough of a challenge. So it's down to people like John Turturro to get Woody on the screen in the way we like to see him.

'FADING GIGOLO' is a sweet and unusual film. It risks running out of steam on numerous occasions, but just about holds on to you due to its kind heart and great acting performances. If you're a Woody Allen fan, you just HAVE to see it. It's Woody doing the funny in a way we've not seen in years! Here's the trailer:

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

A FRAGILE TRUST

It's 7pm and I have no plans for the evening. So I look up what movies are playing. See a documentary I'm intrigued by, 'A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times.' It's starting at 7.30pm at the Quad so I jump on the Q train and head into Manhattan.


Just as the movie's starting I leave my seat near the front and head to the back, because this couple down the front just won't shut their mouths.

The film stops after three minutes and the screen goes black. A woman next to me says, "they're gonna fix the sync right?" and an older Jewish guy down the front deadpans, "it's over?"


We sit for five minutes then the movie starts up again. And it's exactly the type of documentary I'm intrigued by. It's about Jayson Blair, the infamous New York Times journalist who fabricated most of his stories. He made up quotes, he wrote about places he'd never been to and people he'd never met. These were front page NY Times stories.



It's like the recent doc 'The Armstrong Lie', you sit there in awe of Lance Armstrong, how did he have the balls? Jayson Blair was different, it was just as hard to fabricate as it was to tell the truth. He wasn't just taking himself down but he was corrupting the hierarchy of the Times too.

Jayson Blair is a fascinating subject. But the documentary frustrated me at times because it was so content to sit on the fence. In one moment it's carefully and hilariously detailing the incredible deceit, and the next we're seeing Jayson blame it all on drugs, alcohol and mental illness. The film spends the bulk of it's time jittering back and forth between condemning the guy and offering up his excuses, never once daring to have a thought of its own.


The film ends and the director and her publicist are there for a Q&A, I didn't even know this was happening. 


There are 16 of us in the audience. The old Jewish guy offers up some questions along with various witty quips. The guy across the isle is one of the ones I've moved away from due to the chattering. Turns out he works for the New York Times himself.


We spent what must have been an hour in a fascinating and intimate question and answer session. It was full of opinion and conflict in a way the film itself so carefully avoided. Fair play to the director, Samantha Grant, she wanted the film to evoke discussion, which it did. And the old Jewish guy is clashing with the authoritative and condescending tone of the NY Times reporter, who amusingly calls his employer a 'smug' organisation without realising the word perfectly describes himself, too. Ain't that ironic!


I'm in the midst of a wonderful event. An engaged audience that cares about the topics at hand: journalism and ethics. People think the important audiences are the ones with paparazzi and red carpets, but the real joy of cinema is when a handful of strangers come together on the Lower East Side to discuss a documentary.


I leave the cinema and I hear the Jewish guy talking to the NY Times guy. He says, "I'm a documentary filmmaker too", and I could swear he says, "my name is Irving Fields". I know that name?


I Google him. Irving Fields is a 97 year old pianist. Is that who this Jewish guy was? Surely he wasn't that old? Maybe this guy is making a documentary about Fields. I probably just heard things wrong.


Who knows.


Who knows anything? That's what I take from 'A Fragile Trust' and that's what I took from 'The Armstrong Lie'. Some people cheat. Some people get caught. In the end, what price did these individuals pay? I guess that's what most interests me. Apparently, Jayson Blair now works as a life coach. What? I wish the documentary had delved into that side of things, to really see where this guy is now. Deception is one thing. Getting caught is another. But the important thing is, what happens after? 



I remember watching a documentary years ago about Auschwitz. It was horrifying; and you clamber to make sense of it all, to grasp where the fairness is in everything. At the end, there was a stat; it said that 7200 people worked at Auschwitz concentration camp during war-time, and of those 7200 only 15% ever stood trial for their crimes. 

HUH? 

We are taught to be good people, to stand up straight, play by the rules, and for the most part, we do. These documentaries show the flip side of that - they show people who don't play by the rules. What makes them interesting is that their subjects all kind of get away with it. Sure, they're found out, but so what? If Jayson or Lance or the Nazis can live with themselves, then they haven't really suffered. We need a documentary about THAT.

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Saturday, 29 March 2014

We Make Art Because

What else is there? 

We make art because everything else is temporary. 

We make art because it's hard. 

We make art because sometimes we can create something that is better than ourselves. 

We make art because we want to impress people.

We make art because we don't care what anyone thinks. 

We make art because of that empty feeling. 

We make art because it fills us up.

We make art because it impresses the opposite sex.

We make art despite the fact the opposite sex couldn't care less. 

We make art to capture these things we feel.

We make art to remember. 

We make art to forget. 

We make art for the people who loved us. 

We make art for the people who were never around. 

We make art because YEAH YES THAT FEELING THAT FEELING THAT YOU GET WHEN YOU MAKE ART. 

We make art because it helps the world make a little more sense. 

We make art because we don't understand a thing that is going on. 

We make art for other people. 

We make art for ourselves. 

We make art. 

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Monday, 10 February 2014

Right Now

When someone dies, you look back at the text messages, the emails, the tweets, the everything. You get wrapped up in this fight to find out -- did you get it right? Did you respond to messages? Did you initiate messages? Did you turn up or did you constantly reschedule?

When it comes down to it, all that matters are the things that mattered -- and you either succeeded or you failed.

And if you failed, you failed. It happens. Life is busy and work is hard and you gotta do what you gotta do, but a feeling will always eat away at you.

But if you passed, it fills you up with a good feeling. Because despite everything you lost, you're comforted by all you found, everything you was present for.

We have this habit of thinking we'll be better further down the line. When we have more time, or more money, or less stress, it'll be easier to make time, to see loved ones, to find space for those people you cherish.

But that time is undoubtedly this very second. Whoever you're thinking about right now, if they were gone, how would you feel? Did you give that person the right amount of your time? Did you appreciate them for who they are? Did you know the problems they're going through or was you far too focused on yourself?

If your answers are mostly no's, then you only have yourself to blame. Take comfort in the fact that, so far as you know, they're still breathing. You can be a better you.

Little else matters. We can chase money, careers and beaches but ultimately, there's someone out there you love who isn't feeling it right now. And that's because either they're a draining nuisance you need to cut loose from or, more likely, they're gold and you're lazy.

Next month won't do, next week might not even come. You will be taught this lesson eventually, but in the harshest of ways. Instead, be a better you, and start right this moment.

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