Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance 2009: Quick Hits

[Film Fest] An omnibus post to catch up on a backlog of Sundance titles:

Paper Heart: Remember actress-comedian Charlyne Yi from those 30 seconds in Knocked Up where she’s hilarious as Martin Starr’s stoned girlfriend? Apparently that’s about the limit of my tolerance for her spacey persona. In this Borat-style fake-umentary, Yi plays herself as a never-been-in-love gal using a cross-country, movie project as a way to find out what love is. In between interviews with actual couples that play like outtakes from When Harry Met Sally’s interstitial segments, she happens to start a relationship with Michael Cera, also playing himself (and also Yi’s real-life significant other). Cera continues to be effortlessly charming in almost everything he does, but a little bit of Yi goes a loooooong way. How much one enjoys this slight little comedy depends a lot on how much one believes its inventive scenes (like the attempt to stage a romantic walk along the beach) offset its star’s one-note goofiness.

Art & Copy: Irony alert! Director Doug Pray has made a movie about the advertising industry in which he suggests that behind the self-serving messages is a genuine artistry—and he has done so by applying a genuine artistry to an incredibly self-serving message. Some genuine innovators in the world of advertising are given an opportunity to talk about memorable landmarks in television and print commercials, and indeed the ads about which they enthuse were game-changers: Nike’s “Just Do It;” Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America;” “I want my MTV.” But aside from offering the occasional anecdote about the inspiration behind some of these taglines (like Gary Gilmore’s pre-execution plea leading to the “Just Do It” campaign), Pray doesn’t dig much deeper into either the history or the ethics of the industry, and gives his subjects a whole lot of time to pat themselves on the back. It’s entertaining, but if it’s not actually a blowjob to Madison Avenue, it’s at least a little close to the beltline for comfort.

Big River Man: For about an hour, I thought director John Maringouin had taken an already fascinating subject – Slovenian distance swimmer Martin Strel’s 2007 attempt to swim the 3,300-mile length of the Amazon River – and knocked it out of the park. Strel makes a wonderfully complex protagonist: a 52-year-old, overweight functional alcoholic with high blood pressure whose compulsion to swim these rivers may have as much to do with his own troubled history as with his stated goal of drawing attention to environmental issues. But as Strel’s sanity gets progressively wobblier over the course of his two-month journey, so does Maringouin’s grip on the story. His efforts to convey Strel’s mental state visually distract him from the fact that the movie itself starts to feel about 20 minutes too long, even at only 105 minutes. Sometimes, though, 60 terrific minutes can make up for a lot. (Scott Renshaw)

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen Big River Man yet, but concur with Scott's take on the other two.

    I greatly admired Pray's filmmaking prowess while watching "Art and Copy," but the film doesn't accomplish much beyond a sort of Advertising's Greatest Hits. I worked at an ad agency for two years, and can attest that the material featured is the kind of stuff they talk about in "creative training" sessions, but not general practice. Like an ad, it's beautiful on the surface, but doesn't investigate the heart of the matter. Why not throw in an interview with someone who hates advertising?

    While the interludes in which Pray follows a worker who changes billboards work as a nice framing device, it's the only non-creative part of the business included in the film.

    So as not to double-blog, I posted my review of "Paper Heart" on my personal blog,


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