The Way We Get By

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The Way We Get By
Directed by: Aron Gaudet
Written by: Aron Gaudet

The Way We Get By is a fantastic documentary by writer/director Aron Gaudet. It is about three older people and what they’ve gone through in the last five years as the self-appointed welcoming committee for American troops as they return to native soil. The film is predominately set in the Bangor Airport in Bangor, Maine, and the homes of the welcomers.

The Way We Get By is a short documentary that was made for the long-running PBS television series P.O.V. It’s a film about nothing, and yet, everything. By that I mean that the stories don’t seem to be as heavily influenced by the director as other documentaries might be. And the many themes that come across in the film (loss, loneliness, family, spirit, etc.) are universal themes.

The style presented in the documentary keeps these stories fresh and interesting. There’s an amazing rhythm from story to story that keeps it going. One style in particular reminded me of David Lynch’s on-going Interview Project, which centers around individual stories. The similarity lies in the edit, where the interviewee’s audio track is dubbed over a different shot, trying to capture the right emotion for what is being said.

Each person in The Way We Get By is a dear soul, and I instantly connected with William, Joan, and Gerald on an emotional level. There’s so much pathos here. Heck, the preview itself had me tearing up. I found one line from Gerald to be especially poignant. When asked why he was doing what he was doing, he replied, “Be nice to somebody and that makes you feel nicer. That’s the only way you can deal with it.”

I loved seeing the different attitudes and opinions of the greeters as well. I love how these people, even the ones who don’t support the war, are there to support the troops regardless of their stance. That in mind, I wouldn’t call The Way We Get By an anti-war film. Rather, I think anti-loss would be a more fitting term.

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NetFlix Recommendations

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@berutt recently posted the following on Twitter:

Looking for some suggestions for my Netflix queue. Documentaries, cult classics, comedies, non-fiction. Any suggestions?

Rather than inundate Twitter with several recommendations (140 characters just doesn’t cut it sometimes), I decided to properly respond by hammering out a quick response here. Not only will I be able to more accurately pick some films to recommend, but hey, it’s an excuse to write more. 🙂

Taking the genres listed into consideration, here are several films that deserve to grace anyone’s NetFlix queue:

Salesman
Dare I say, the perfect documentary? Salesman and the Maysles Brothers opened my eyes to the beauty of documentaries, from their fascinating subjects to their fly-on-the-wall style of filmmaking. (And if you like this, go ahead and add Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens as well)

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Another documentary that I fell in love with. It’s easily one of the most suspenseful documentaries I’ve ever seen, and is assembled well.

Plan 9 From Outer Space
Regarded by many as the worst film ever made, this cult classic, directed by Ed Wood, is a treat for the cinema masochist.
And as an added bonus, do your self the favor and watch Ed Wood after wards. Ironically, I consider it to be Tim Burton’s best film and Johnny Depp’s best performance.

Arsenic and Old Lace
Everyone needs to have a little fun now and again, and Frank Capra’s no exception. This off-the-wall dark comedy is an instant classic with many memorable moments.

Raising Arizona
The Coen Brothers wrote and directed. Need I say more? And Nicholas Cage’s performance is good.

The Fisher King
A fantastic film from Terry Gilliam. I’d say more, but I’d rather not ruin the experience.

What NetFlix films would you recommend?

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PDQ Reviews (6/9)

RKO

Title: RKO 281
Directed By: Benjamin Ross
Starring: Liev Schreiber / James Cromwell / John Malkovich
PDQ: Tells the story behind Citizen Kane. The casting is genius, but the story was too bland and already covered.

Love

Title: Love and Death
Directed By: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen / Diane Keaton
PDQ: A fun, epic romp with Woody Allen. (You might want to watch The Seventh Seal first)

Cassandra

Title: Cassandra’s Dream
Directed By: Woody Allen
Starring: Ewan McGregor / Colin Farrell
PDQ: More in the style of Match Point than Allen’s earlier films. Not much going for this cautionary tale.

Nashville Film Festival Report, Day 2

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Day 2 of the Nashville Film Festival started with the 1:00 showing of a documentary called Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary. The overall format of the film was interviews with a host of documentarians around the world broken up by clips from their films. I appreciated the range of talking heads, as there were many faces that I didn’t recognize. After the film was over, I came away with two cemented ideas: Errol Morris continues to fascinate me (Especially with his interviewing device showcased in Fog of War), and I appreciate Werner Herzog more and more…but trust him less. He blurs the line between fact and fiction too much for my tastes. His point that all film in a sense is fictionalized, but I don’t think that should stop filmmakers from trying to portray truth in the films. This is a discussion that I would have liked to see more interaction with between the interviewed.

Mothers and Daughters

After a quick lunch, I watched Mothers & Daughters at 3:15. This film followed the mother/daughter relationships between several characters, overlapping in some areas. Overall it came across as being overly dramatic in several scenes, but there were a few gem moments that really touched me. The older woman (pictured above)  in the film was fantastic. The emotionality of the character was portrayed with such subtelty.

Gonzo

I admit that William Shatner was one of the selling points of the festival for me. I’d read a little about the William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet here and there, but wasn’t quite sure what it was about until watching it at the festival. In short, it’s a documentary that tells the story behind choreographer Margo Sappington’s ballet Common People. The performance fuses the ballet with Has Been, a recent album by William Shatner and Ben Folds. The documentary, which works more as a DVD special feature than a feature-length film, tells the story through interviews with the artists involved in both productions, which is a great story to tell. It also features footage from the ballet, which was riveting to say the least. I would have loved to see it performed live. After returning from Nashville, I purchased a copy of Has Been, which is quite a treat.

Up

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Up
Directed By: Pete Doctor / Bob Peterson
Written By: Bob Peterson
Voices: Edward Asner / Christopher Plummer

Up is the latest animated film from Disney / Pixar, and is a treat for all ages. It follows the exploits of Carl Fredricksen, a disgruntled, elderly balloon salesman, and a local boy scout named Russell, as they set off in a grand adventure to South America in Carl’s house, propelled by a plethora of colorful balloons.

That’s the most that I want to give away from a film that everyone should experience for themselves. I was impressed by the balance between the style and the narrative in Up. The opening 15 minutes or so, for example, is in essence a montage, that blends the two together perfectly and sets up the rest of the film nicely.

Pixar has a history of technical excellence, and Up definitely falls into this category. It was released in 2D and 3D formats, and I applaud the Pixar team for creating a 3D film that doesn’t feel too gimmicky. The 3D format accentuates the film, and doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, taking the viewer out of the experience.

From the beginning of the film, the story evokes feelings of nostalgia, childlike innocence. While Up is a decidedly humorous (Sometimes too silly for my tastes) family film, it’s also very serious, touching upon themes of family, belonging, and fear.

Following in the footsteps of WALL·E, I love Pixar’s emphasis on non-verbals, especially in the opening montage, drawing upon Charlie Chaplin’s physicality, antics, and especially pathos. The emotionality of the film was especially heightened by Michael Giacchino’s breathtaking score, which kept me in my seat during the end credits.

While I found the story especially moving at times, however, some of the dialogue seemed forced and on-the-nose. An example of this would be when Russell tells Carl about his family, a scene that felt like tacked on exposition to get the story moving. In writing a story, subtlety is a virtue.

And while I was more than wiling to accept the fantastic nature of the film by leaving my brain at the door and taking my heart with me, there were certain elements that left me scratching my now empty head.

But aside from a few issues that I had with the film, Up is a truly fantastic film that everyone deserves to see. The themes and characters are so rich that the whole family can take something away from it.

Nashville Film Festival Report, Day 1

This post is a long time in the writing, largely due to graduating from college, and the extended trip back home to Pennsylvania. It has given me more time to digest the films that I watched, however. I had the opportunity to attend the Nashville Film Festival again this year, and it was a great experience. Aside from watching some great films, I also had the opportunity to hang around with some of the people involved in the creation of these films, through the Q&A sessions after their films and bumping into them outside of the theater. I would like to write up a post for each day that I was at the film festial, briefly recounting what went on and my quick reactions to the many films that I saw.

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On Thursday, April 16th, (500) Days of Summer started the festival at 7:00 PM. Directed by newcomer Marc Webb, the film is a semi-romantic comedy. (Watch the preview here) Leads Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel have a great on-screen chemistry that propels the film. The style and narrative structure of the film is unique and postmodern at times. It is centered around Tom (Gordon-Levitt), who falls in love with Summer (Deschanel). The film jumps around from the aftermath of Summer breaking up with Tom, and the 500 days before-hand. It’s quirky, but at the same time realistic. Look for it’s limited release on July 17th, and pray that it gets picked up for a wider audience.

After the film, there was a quick Q&A between director Marc Webb (right) and Variety film critic Joe Leydon (left). Afterwards I found myself in a conversation with the two outside of the theater. At one point they were talking about the differences between Truffaut and Goddard, at which point Mr. Leydon showed off a tatoo of film strip that read “Truffaut Lives”.

Summer

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

(Seen at the Nashville Film Festival)

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Directed by documentarian Bestor Cram and written by Johnny Cash biographer Michael Streissguth, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison is a fascinating look at Cash’s famous live recording behind the titular bars.

With the lack of actual footage of the event, Cram pulled together a collection of photographs taken at the concert by Jim Marshall, interviews with people involved and affected, and rare footage taken inside Folsom.  Where the film could have easily been devoted to one story, I appreciate the narrative balance presented here. Instead of dealing with the ups and downs of Johnny Cash’s life like so many other films, Cram instead focuses on Cash’s life surrounding the Folsom Prison performance and two inmates whose lives were affected by his performance.

While I didn’t particularly care for Millard Dedmon’s story, he seemed to serve as an amalgamation of the Folsom inmates. Glen Sherley, on the other hand, is the driving force of the film. While at Folsom, Sherley wrote a song called “Greystone Chapel”. The night before the performance, his recording ended up in the hands of Johnny Cash, who performed the song the following day. Cash and Sherley became good friends, with Cash helping Sherley out years after he was released from Folsom. It’s a fascinating story that will stick with you; that’s the power of good cinema.

The first documentary to focus exclusively on such an important event, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison succeeds at telling such a captivating story in just 87 minutes. Watch this film if you have the opportunity.

Final Oscar Predictions

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Best Picture: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
Best Actress: Melissa Leo (Frozen River)
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (Doubt)
Best Director: David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Original Screenplay: Martin McDonagh (In Bruges)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Eli Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Cinamatography: Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt / Victor J. Zolfo (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Costume Design: Michael O’Connor (The Duchess)
Best Sound: Tom Myers / Michael Semanick / Ben Burtt (WALL-E)
Best Editing: Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Sound Editing: Ben Burtt / Matthew Wood (WALL-E)
Best Visual Effects: Eric Barba / Steve Preeg / Burt Dalton / Craig Barron (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Makeup: Greg Cannom (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Song: Peter Gabriel’s “Down to Earth” (WALL-E)
Best Music: Alexandre Desplat (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Animated Short Film: La Maison en Petits Cubes
Best Live Action Short Film: The Pig
Best Short Documentary: The Conscience of Nhem En
Best Documentary: Man on Wire
Best Foreign Film: Waltz with Bashir
Best Animated Film: WALL-E

There you have it. Some pretty risky predictions there; it’s a mixture of personal opinion and what others have said. Guessing on the foreign films and short documentaries has become an annual tradition for me. 🙂

If I find a laptop, I will be updating during the ceremony via Twitter. Feel free to follow me and tweet your thoughts.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Directed By: Mark Herman
Starring: Asa Butterfield / David Thewlis / Vera Farmiga
Rating: three_half_star

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a unique perspective of the holocaust, showing it through the eyes of a young German boy (Butterfield), whose father (Thewlis) is a German officer. After their family moves near a concentration camp, young Bruno makes friends with a Jewish boy named Shmuel through the fence, not knowing what the camp really is.

There is a theme of childlike innocence that flows throughout the film. While at times this theme is over-done and stretches reality, it really hit home with me. The film opens with a swastika filling the screen. As the camera pulls back on a busy street we see a group of children running around pretending to be airplanes firing their imaginary weapons as they run down the street. This struck me as an ironic statement, showing the seemingly innocent way in which children ‘play’ war games, while not fully understanding what war really is.

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One element of innocence that caught my eye was a scene near the beginning of the film where the boy is talking to his father. We see that his father has a distinct shadow on one side of his face, which is contrasted with the fully lit face of his son, which to me is a representation of his innocence. As the film progresses, so does the lighting of the boy. As his innocence crumbles, his face no longer has that wonderful glow.

On a similar note, James Horner’s score fit the mood of the film wonderfully. I didn’t notice the music very much at the beginning of the film, which I think was what Horner was going for. There is a definite build-up in the music, both in the volume and also in the mood. At the beginning it is light and more carefree, but nearing the end of the film it builds into a darker, pulsing sound. Sometimes, though, I was reminded more of his other scores, like A Beautiful Mind, which was a little distracting.

I was impressed by the acting of the youngsters, who said just as much through their facial expressions and gestures than they did with their speech. David Thewlis also turned in a sound performance as the father. And it was great seeing Rupert Friend again as well. I first saw him in Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont; I can see this getting him some much-needed recognition.

On a more technical note, I wasn’t very impressed with the editing early on in the film. It was overly jumpy in areas, and unnatural. I don’t know if that was an intentional contrast, but it certainly felt more natural later on.

When the film came to it’s dramatic close, I realized that it wasn’t necessarily a film about the holocaust. Rather, it’s simply a story about a friendship between two boys. The holocaust elements are certainly there, but they serve more as a backdrop to the real story that’s taking place.

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Alphabet Meme

The Rules

1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.

2. The letter “A” and the word “The” do not count as the beginning of a film’s title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don’t know of any films with those titles.

3. Return of the Jedi belongs under “R,” not “S” as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy; all that followed start with “S.” Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under “R,” not “I” as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all films in the LOTR series belong under “L” and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under “C,” as that’s what those filmmakers called their films from the start. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgement to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number’s word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under “T.”

5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type “alphabet meme” into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.

6. If you’re selected, you have to then select 5 more people.

Mine was done free-form. Whatever film popped into my head first was the one I picked, provided that I have seen it before. I didn’t want to just plug in my favorite films, which would be boring.

Amelie
Barton Fink
Conversation
Departed
Elephant Man
Fargo
Gosford Park
Heat
Ikiru
Jurassic Park
Kate & Leopold
Little Miss Sunshine
Mystery Men
No Country for Old Men
October Sky
Pirates of Penzance
Queen
Road to Perdition
Shawshank Redemption
Taxi Driver
Unbreakble
V for Vendetta
War of the Buttons
X-Men
You Can’t Take It With You
Zulu

Instigators: Blog Cabins / Insight into Entertainment

Victims:
1. Super Movie Time
2. Impromptu Audience
3. Rants of a Diva
4. Is This Seat Taken?
5. Noirishcity