August 2009 Reviews
By Shawn McKenzie 8/7/2009
Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in August of 2009. Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.
From 1964 to 1967, NBC aired a family show called “Flipper” about a bottlenose dolphin who was the companion of the warden of a marine preserve in Florida. Cetacean trainer Richard “Ric” O’Barry trained the dolphins playing Flipper on the show. After the show was cancelled, O’Barry became an activist for dolphin rights…focusing mainly on the cruelty of dolphins in captivity forced to perform in sea park/aquarium shows. In 2007 though, his latest mission was to expose the annual killing of more than 2,500 dolphins in a cove at Taiji, Wakayama in Japan that they use for mercury-tainted dolphin meat. Teamed with former National Geographic photographer, filmmaker, and cofounder of the Ocean Preservation Society Louis Psihoyos and a team of underwater sound and camera experts, special effects artists, marine explorers, adrenaline junkies, and free divers, O’Barry attempts to film the slaughtering going on in The Cove. Using underwater microphones and high-definition cameras disguised as rocks (designed by effects experts at Industrial Light & Magic), they go on a covert mission to do just that. Despite the tension-filled filming and narrative, it’s still a nature documentary (though a politically-charged one), and I’ve never been a fan of nature documentaries (I’m probably the only one who wasn’t crazy about 2005’s Oscar-winning doc March of the Penguins.) They are just boring to me, and they remind me of PBS programming (I watch movies and TV to escape from school…not to be schooled. I’m sorry…that’s just my own personal opinion, and I respect the opinions of the opposite viewpoint.) I will admit that the movie did its job in exposing to the world about the treatment of these friendly mammals, and for that, I would applaud it. If you are fans of dolphins, this might even be an important film for you to watch. Just for entertainment value though, I can’t see myself diving into this movie again.
I’m not a big fan of sports documentaries, but filmed in 3D, this movie isn’t too bad. Sports documentary filmmaker Steve Lawrence (whose previous movie was the ESPN surfing documentary “Down the Barrel”) explores the world of the X Games (or more specifically the 14th annual X Games competition that took place in Los Angeles in 2008), and he spotlights some of the top competitors in their sports. As Lords of Dogtown and Into the Wild actor Emile Hirsch narrates, the movie focuses on a few of the more well known (by fans of the competition at least) X Games athletes. Shaun White is the only one that I had heard about before this movie (aside from Tony Hawk, who is shown in archived footage.) He was a snowboarding prodigy at the age of six, and has been competing professionally since the age of 13. He competes in snowboarding in the winter and skateboarding in the summer, and he has been pressured lately to concentrate on one sport or another exclusively. Travis Pastrana has won several gold medals in both motorcross biking and rally car racing. He is…in my opinion…a nut. Danny Way created the first skateboard mega ramp, and he once jumped the Great Wall of China on 2005 on his board. Ricky Carmichael has won several motorcross/supercross victories, and he has been named “The G.O.A.T.” (Greatest Of All Time.) Bob Burnquist is a skateboarder who is one of only four athletes to compete at every X Games. Kyle Loza is a two-time defending gold medallist in the Moto X Best Trick competition. Jake Brown is an Australian skateboarder who suffered what is considered the “heaviest slam they [i.e. ESPN commentators] had ever seen.” Fortunately, for him in the 2008 competition, he redeemed himself by not biffing it this time. If any sports competition deserved the 3D treatment, it’s the X Games. While I was initially blown away with the amazing stunt tricks and jumps, after a while I was bored and wanted it to end (it might have kept my attention more fully if it were an only an hour long.) For those who do like the Games though, go soon…because the doc is going to be in theaters for only one week (I’m guessing it’s to make room for The Final Destination in 3D.)
Based on Elliot Tiber (born Elliot Teichberg) and Tom Monte’s 2007 book Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life, it’s centered on the story of Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin.) He is an aspiring Greenwich Village interior designer who lives a closeted double life in 1969. During the week, he is out and pursuing his artistic interests and is active in the gay New York scene. On the weekends though, he acts as a straight businessman who helps his Old World Jewish immigrant parents, Sonia (Imelda Staunton) and Jake (Henry Goodman), run their rundown El Monaco Motel in White Lake, which is an unincorporated hamlet in the town of Bethel, Sullivan County, New York. While in White Lake, he helps his post-traumatic, recently-returned-from-Vietnam friend, Billy Hawkins (Emile Hirsch), and he serves as the president of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce. Every year, he grants himself a permit for a local annual music and arts festival in order to bring commerce to White Lake, which this year is hosting a chamber music event and a performance by the Earth Light Theater troupe and its lead actor, Devon (Dan Fogler.) When Elliot hears that a music event created by Woodstock Ventures was denied a permit in the nearby town of Wallkill, he decides to call one of the Woodstock promoters, Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff), and offer up the 15 acres that his family owned that was originally meant for the local music and arts festival. When Lang and partners John Roberts (Skylar Astin), Joel Rosenman (Daniel Eric Gold), and Artie Kornfeld (Adam Pally), along with Lang’s assistant Tisha (Mamie Gummer), see the land, they notice that it’s essentially swampland. Elliot decides to introduce them to his neighbor Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), a man who owns a dairy farm with many clean cut acres. Max and Lang negotiate, and he offers them the use of his alfalfa field for the festival. Lang has Elliot use his motel as the official box office for the tickets and as the headquarters for Woodstock Ventures in White Lake. The people start showing up in droves, requiring Elliot to hire additional help, like construction worker Paul (Darren Pettie), with whom he starts a fling. There are problems though. The citizens of Bethel are opposed to the overrun of hippies to their town, and one of those opposed is Billy’s older brother Dan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan.) Reverend Don (Richard Thomas) becomes the community outreach leader assigned to make peace with the citizens. Also, when mobsters offer their “security services” to Elliot for a fee, they are chased off by Elliot’s parents…but he realizes that he still needs security. He hires former Marine turned transvestite Vilma (Liev Schreiber) to head the security team. The three days of peace, love, and music go on smoothly…and the rest is history. A few things hamper my appreciation for Oscar-winning director Ang Lee’s almost factual biopic. First up is the acting job that Martin does. For a stand-up comedian playing the lead in a semi-comedy, Martin is surprisingly unfunny. I know that he is trying to prove his range in this movie that is only partially a comedy, but he is dull in his performance. In his Comedy Central show “Important Things with Demetri Martin,” he manages to be funny…but there isn’t even a chuckle elicited here. Second up is the music…or the lack of it. I know that Lee wanted the focus to be on the story and not on the music…but doing a story about a MUSIC FESTIVAL without any of the MUSICIANS in it is just boring. There is some background music in it (including the Doors…who didn’t even perform at Woodstock…and Judy Garland for some odd reason), but it’s not original performances of the acts at the festival. Original Woodstock performer Richie Havens rerecorded his song “Freedom” for this movie, but it plays during the end credits. On the positive side, I did like the acting performances of Staunton and Goodman as Elliot’s overbearing mother and passive father. While their performances weren’t exciting, at least Groff and Levy were spot on in their portrayals (I base this on re-watching Michael Wadleigh’s Oscar-winning 1970 documentary Woodstock and seeing their real-life counterparts.) If you see this movie, expect peace and love…but not much music.
SEE THIS MOVIE!
Catch this movie at the theater if you can...
Wait until it comes out on video...
Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...
Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!