Friday, March 29, 2013

The Case for Impositions

The fliers for the documentary The Imposter come with a blurb about how it will shock and amaze you and have you discussing the subject matter for weeks.  Of course, most documentaries make these claims, as otherwise… well, why would one go?

The subject matter of the Imposter also would seem to make interesting subject matter: a person is arrested in Spain and claims to be an abducted American boy, and the family of the boy comes to claim him, accepts the fact he has the wrong colour eyes and speaks with a French accent, and then take him back home.  The immediate questions raised are: how did the family not realise this guy was not the boy they lost?  And how did everyone also buy the story?

The tale is mostly told from the perspective of the Imposter himself, Frederic Bourdin, a guy with obviously quite a few issues.  In his 20s, he wanted to “belong” in a boy’s home and so posed as a teenager when he eventually made his way to Spain.  The Spanish authorities needed to know who he was to keep him in the system he wanted to be a part of, and so he claimed he was an American and then, through a few surreptitious calls to the US (claiming to call his family when in reality he was calling the missing persons line), Bourdin claimed the identity of a Texan child missing for three years.

Back in the US, the family, who also recount the tale from their perspective, rushed to Spain to collect their lost family member.  They encounter a boy changed from what they knew, wrapped up in oversized clothing and with a French accent, but believing him abused and in shock, give him the tools to fool the authorities into recognising the family by showing him family photos before his assessment, which also convinces the US authorities to issue him with a passport and take him back to the United States.

It’s all a very bizarre story, and things just get weirder in the US, with television appearances and private investigations and all sorts of weird goings on that I won’t recount here.

However, the intriguing tale is hampered by the fact it is told in a quasi tabloid style.  The camera lingers over the faces of people in “moments of reflection” and the imposter himself is given free rein to recount his version of events without ever having to explain what he did and what he thought of those around him.  Sure, he had a neglected childhood, but as his past is revealed by the documentary, little to nothing is asked of the subject himself.

And then there is the family.  They come across as fairly simple folk from a small town, but as the story progresses and the nature of their blindness to the nature of the Imposter in their midst is examined, the reporting style takes an uncomfortable tabloid tone, and the final scenes where two guys try and “uncover” the truth in a spectacularly staged way are so tacky as to be offensive.

It’s a shame really that the film does seem to devolve into complete trash.  The story in itself is absolutely fascinating, and getting all the parties involved and talking should have guaranteed a riveting documentary.  But the lack of an “impartial” narrator is where, I think, the film falls down, as the agendas of the people involved seem to take precedence over the facts, not to mention the sensationalism that seems a pathetic way to try and drag the story out.

Verdict: Considering the material, the Imposter itself was a massive disappointment.  It had a lot going for it, and the facts themselves make for a bewildering tale, but the style of the telling really let the whole documentary down.  Worth seeing for the incredible tale, but possibly with a finger ready to mute some of the nonsense.  6 frauds out of 10.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Case for Acting Liberally

A film that I missed at the Film Festival last year with Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts.  As writer, director and star of Liberal Arts, the film really is his baby and all (well most of) the credit for a very charming film goes to him.

Of course, Radnor has a great cast behind him to back him up.  Radnor plays Jesse, a guy who has just broken up with his girlfriend and appears generally dissatisfied with life, who returns to the University where he had the time of his life to attend the farewell dinner of his second favourite Professor, played by the ever incredible Richard Jenkins.  While there, he encounters three students of note: an idealistic possibly drug addled hippie (played by Zac Efron, amazingly engaging), a tormented literary genius who reminds Jesse of himself (played by John Magaro, who I don't recall seeing before), and a beautiful young student with whom he falls head over heels in love, in the wide eyed doll-like form of Elizabeth Olsen.

From there, the film examines ageing, dating, falling in love, all through the rose tinted glasses of a stunningly beautiful college campus and an always sunny New York.  The incomparable Allison Janney strolls in every so often to deliver some dry sass and, as usual, steals every scene that she is in, but otherwise the film is Radnor's (and occasionally Jenkins') and his journey is a lovely, slow and completely understandable one.

There is not a huge amount more to write about this one.e  It didn't aim to be classic movie literature (well, I  didn't think it was), but it aimed to tell a decent story about a realistic group of people (no explosions nor armies of super-quirky or super-together friends in the background - besides Efron's Nat) and using everyday parts of life - music and books.

Everyone with me at the session was impressed with the movie and walked away with a smile on their face.  Of course, at the start, we were subjected to a person unwrapping about one hundred individually wrapped lollies, and having a dickens of a time doing so as well, which had almost everyone else in the cinema bemused/ready to kill him, but in the end, the overall niceness and lightness of the film ensured noone became homicidal and, in fact, everyone probably left in a happier mood than when they walked in.

Verdict: Liberal Arts is a great little film about growing old and finding meaning.  Sure, it ends on a very... twee kind of note, but that's okay - this is a rom com afterall.  Well done, Mr Radnor!  8 Mothers I Have Met out of 10.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Case for Ozzy

Oz the Great and Powerful is every inch the kiddie Disney film.

Perhaps that is not all that surprising really considering it is a prequel to the 1930s Wizard of Oz, and there are lots of nods to movies of that era, with the actors hamming it up a lot of the time and casting aside the subtlety and depth that has characterised many of their performances, and with the film starting in square monochrome and then, as the story shifts to Oz, turning into brilliant technicolour.

The film is visually extraordinary, though disappointingly the wonderful 3D features become, in 2D, a bit blurry and hazy and rather a disappointment.  But there are only a few scenes that have been obviously constructed to make the most of 3D technology.  

Its  pity then that the film starts off rather painfully and slowly then.  As much as i think James Franco, Zach Braff, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weiss are wonderful - indeed they are the reasons I chose to see the film - I could not get past the very slow and painfully obvious plot as Oz makes his slow and painfully obvious way to the Emerald City and has his encounter with the Wicked Witch.

Quite why he encounters the Wicked Witch in the Dark Forrest, where she doesn't really have a reason to be besides the fact it is an evil place to hang out, is never really explained, nor is how the populace of Oz seems to be ignorant of the nature of the struggle going on around them - until of course the whole nefarious plot has been revealed.

Yep, it irritated me a lot and I was, about midway through the film, convinced that I would hate it and also that the overreactor near me was going to explode if anything cuter than a doll or scarier than an explosion ever appeared (irritating!).  However - and yes, this surprised me too - the film kind of redeemed itself.

Once it got past the set up and the story settled in to the battle, it all got pretty exciting and interesting.  Mila Kunis stopped being sweet (though she is; did you see that interview with the young BBC reporter?):

As I was saying, she stopped being sweet and started screaming a lot as the action got more intense (though unfortunately she sounded a lot like Meg Griffin to me, which is awesome in itself).  Franco didn't stop being a confident, sleazy charmer (he does that so well), and Williams and Weiss get harder and fiercer and their showdown is pretty awesome too.

Overall then, I finished off with a positive experience of the movie.  I don't know if I could bring myself to watch it again, considering the beginning, but I can definitely recommend the end.  Wizard!

Verdict:  Oz the Great and Powerful is not a resounding success, but a bit like the Wizard himself, is a bit of a sham but can make a great show when it brings out the smoke and mirrors.  The cast itself is magnificent despite the tortured start of the film, and even with some cloying scenes designed to elicit your sympathy (those always annoy me), it still ends up being a pretty good film.  Kind of.  7 Rainbows over 10.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Case for a Pause

Hmmn, well the cinematic options at the moment are a bit weak (Movie 43Hansel and Gretel?) so I haven't really been inspired to go the local cineplex.

But then, there are things that remind me how wonderful movies can be.

Ah, that's... inspiring.

So hopefully I will be back at the movies in the next few weeks.

Verdict:  That movie is... something, isn't it?  Awesome.  5 whateveritises out of 5.