Biggie & Tupac

This director has to be one of the worst documentarians on the planet. And definitely the worst narrator. And yet I managed to learn a few things from this movie. And strangely, the people that he approached for interviews and filming seemed oddly to allow him a level of access that I wouldn’t have expected. Why? How?

This is probably only for real fans of the title characters. Otherwise, just check out Notorious – much more entertaining.

Magic Mike

Channing Tatum cancels out Matthew McConaughey. I always like the former, and I’m always annoyed by the latter. Not what I’d expect from Steven Soderbergh, but this is pretty fun – more for the energy than for the depth of the material.

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Cameras follow her everywhere she goes – sounds like a typical, modern documentary, right? Meant to be intimate and give you an inside look. Which is fine, except with someone like Lady Gaga, there’s very little that is not scripted, or at the very least, not very un-guarded.

She’s a genuine talent, but I can’t say I like her any more after seeing this than before.

La La Land

What I liked about this movie was that it was so unabashedly its own thing. Quirky without being in your face about it, still, this was bold, inventive, fun, and colorful.

I don’t always go see musical fantasies, but when I do, I like them to star Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone… Not sure I want to see them win Oscars for this film, given some of the other performances this year, but this casting was inspired. It also should not win best picture over Moonlight, but given that it’s sort of all about LA and the industry, it just might…

Amy

Heartwrenching. Such extremes, everything – first and foremost her talent – exaggerated so far beyond the rest of us. But also of course the dark side – the binges, the drugs, the drinking. It’s not a unique story – others have burned too bright and too fast, and much has been made of the fact that she joined the 27 club when she died. But this doesn’t lessen the tragedy, and the real sense of loss that watching this engenders. All these songs that will never be finished…

  1. Blake Fielder-Civil was a motherfucker. I blame him, drug addict fuck that he was, for dragging Amy down with him. I hope he’s still in jail.
  2. Her father was kind of a dick too.
    I wish I could have seen her just once in concert. Although maybe not the one in Belgrade…

 

The Wrecking Crew

Better late than never? Nice to see this crew getting the credit they deserve, for playing on all those albums you thought were simply The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Sonny & Cher, The Monkees…

Like 20 Feet from Stardom, we learn the names and the faces of many unsung (ha!) heroes.

 

Justin Bieber: Believe

He’s not the cute, innocent kid he was in the earlier film, Never Say Never. I liked that doc, and I enjoyed this one too. It’s a somewhat sanitized version of his story since the previous film, or maybe it was completed before his latest escapades, but there is no question that Bieber is quickly becoming a major asshole.

Regardless, the story is interesting, at least in the sense of how he got to be the person he is. And I disagree with those who say he is without talent – both musical talent, and the kind of force of personality that enables some to become stars while others crumble or fade away. Plus, this is probably the closest I’ll ever come to seeing him live, and it is a good show…

 

20 Feet from Stardom

One of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. And certainly the best soundtrack. Uplifting but also a little bit sad, when you realize how much talent went unrecognized, at least in terms of recording contracts and royalties. Makes me want to go out and buy some music…

Pirate Radio

The whole thing was a bit frenetic and loud and harshly edited. It’s a bit like a gangly puppy, all good intentions and energy, but rather messy, and always knocking stuff over. A few scenes worked, but as a whole it didn’t feel as polished as Curtis’s other films, e.g. Love Actually.

Bill Nighy was the best part of the film, and unfortunately Kenneth Branagh the worst. He doesn’t do comedy very well, and seemed out of place, almost uncomfortable, as a buffoon of a bad guy… The rest of the cast held up their end well, and it’s all good fun. Some gems in the soundtrack as well…

Inside Llewyn Davis

Attention to detail. If there is one thing that remains consistent throughout all of the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre, that would be it. It’s a bit difficult to even figure out what genre they are going for here, so subtle is the humor at times. But it doesn’t matter – everything is impeccable, from the casting to the wardrobe to the photography. The genre doesn’t matter when the filmmaking is this good.

It’s much more firmly planted in realism than something like Barton Fink, with no overblown effects or outsized performances. Compare John Turturro in the earlier film with Oscar Isaac as Llewyn here – Llewyn might blend into the background, for all his schleppiness and acceptance of his fate. But Isaac’s performance is just right, and we want to root for him despite everything.

And the timing! As we have come to expect from the Coens: Tremendous, pregnant pauses, while the camera focuses on a single person’s face (and what faces!) as we see the expression change. Sound effects used almost like characters – the tick of a clock, or creaky hinges on a wind-blown sign. This is the kind of film that rewards rewatching…