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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Lovely by Surprise

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Lovely by Surprise
Directed by: Kirt Gunn
Written by: Kurt Gunn
Starring: Carrie Preston, Austin Pendleton, Reg Rogers, Michael Chernus

Charlie Kaufman’s absurdity meets the style of Wes Anderson in this quirky look at humanity and the art of storytelling.

Carrie Preston plays Marian, an author who is struggling with her latest novel about two man-children (No, this is not a Will Ferrel movie) who live together in a landlocked boat in the middle of nowhere, surviving on cereal and milk.

Faced with writer’s block, Marian goes to Preston (Austin Pendelton) for help. Encouraged by her mentor, Marian attempts to off her main character. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that Humkin has other plans in mind, and literally leaps into our world.

Marian confides in Preston

I hesitate to say too much about the iconoclastic story for fear that it would take away from experiencing it for yourself. It’s a mixed bag of emotions, and first time director Kirt Gunn (also the writer) handles it delicately. It reminded me of Stranger Than Fiction and Adaptation, but only in plot. Kirt’s story is unique, fresh, and well worth watching.

At times grandiose and overacted, the decidedly idiosyncratic story has a peculiar blend of fiction and reality that works surprisingly well. The title of this film is very apt, and wonderfully absent from the film. It’s a title that makes sense in retrospect, which is a credit to the film.

The range of acting talent on display in Lovely by Surprise is, in my mind, the film’s greatest component. Carrie Preston, Austin Pendelton, and Reg Rogers perform admirably. I would love to see more from them. Michael Chernus brought a great amount of charisma to his performances as Humkin, and a What About Bob? quality to the character.

It’s a great little film with a lot of heart.

Lovely by Surprise comes out on DVD July 7th, 2009.

(Originally posted at MovieZeal.com)

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.