Whilst Casta La Vista takes another one its famous unscheduled breaks (this time it’s my fault) the better Chris and I thought it would be a good idea to keep you, our most devoted of listeners, updated with the things that are going on in our lives vis-a-vis the world of the movie.
This time around it’s my turn, and so I thought it might be quaint to give you a few quick written efforts on movies I have seen recently that probably won’t get a shout on the pod (and a few that have as well).
Regular listeners will know that during this year I have built a good relationship with an art house cinema/ gallery in Derby called QUAD; part of my current work there involves me leading a fortnightly movie club named Cinefriends which is designed to encourage people who regularly go to the cinema to hang out for a bit afterwards, talk about the movie and get to know one another a bit better. It’s a social group, aimed at people who want to see a variety of films and meet people at the same time. The group itself is thriving, and if I do say so myself I make an awesome host!
Every couple of months I’ll post up one of these editions to let you know the flicks I’ve been seeing as part of the group, and what my thoughts have been on each one too.
Why don’t we start at the beginning?
Meeting 1: Lebanon
This was a really heavy flick to start off a group like this with – however the other option for Meeting one was The Killer Inside Me (Episode 18 – about twelve minutes in) so maybe it could’ve been worse? Set during the Lebanese war of the early 19-hmmm-ner-herr’s the film is based almost entirely inside a tank, as a group of four soldiers make their way through a city under the increasingly confused instruction of their battalion leader outside.
As war movies go, this is a must see, up there with The Hurt Locker and Waltz with Bashir. Much like in Kathryn Bigelow’s effort the key to its success is the focus on the characters and not the war itself; the realisation that individual soldiers can be confused, scared, powerless and vulnerable. Added to this, by placing all of the action inside such a confined and dirty space, showing the outside world only from the perspective of the periscope, we get a completely isolated view on war. Potential threat is only ever as far away as the edges of the crosshairs, and the clunky mechanics of the turret add to the tension as it scans the tank’s vicinity.
Ironically my biggest criticism of the film would have to be that the characters do have a tendency to fall into stereotype and caricature – the nervous one; the flawed leader; the new guy; the brash rule breaker – and the film is definitely at its best when the story allows these characters to buck from those traditions.
All in all though Lebanon is well acted, well made (no expense spared on production value – despite its minimalist internal setting the action through the crosshairs looks amazing) and definitely moving. It’s also bloody violent, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!
2nd Meeting: Whatever Works
The first of these meetings that I coincided with a Subjected. Check out mine and Chris’ thoughts here (thirty two minutes in).
Meeting III: Good Hair
Would you like to know my unshakeable perspective on documentaries? Good, I’ll tell you;
Why do they all have to be fifteen minutes too long?
I believe that a good documentary requires one thing; an interesting topic. A GREAT documentary requires two things; an interesting topic and someone who can tell you about that topic in an entertaining way. An AMAZING documentary requires those two things PLUS some sort of conflict/ debate; something that provokes and allows we, the viewer, to generate an opinion.
Good Hair falls into the category of a GREAT documentary. Chris Rock takes us on a journey through the African-American hair industry, from styling conventions to Harlem salons, via Indian weave manufacturers and pharmaceutical laboratories.
Whilst definitely niche, Good Hair worked for me because it was focused on a topic I knew very little about, and was unlikely to learn about from anywhere else. The added bonus is that Chris Rock is a very charming man, and his manner throughout the film is inquisitive and naive, reflective of how the audience should be at each point. This is a technique made more famous by the likes of Michael Moore, however Rock is able to pull it off without looking obnoxious. Likewise, the obviously staged and scripted elements of the film do not rub half as much as in a Moore film, because Good Hair does not try as hard to suggest that they are genuine.
Good Hair succeeds because it is a light-hearted representation of a culture from a perspective foreign to most audiences. My group responded well to the film as they came out feeling they had learnt something they otherwise wouldn’t have known. And as far as subject matters go, the hair industry is probably one that doesn’t need to be addressed in an overly dramatic way.
That said there is still the issue of why Good Hair misses out on being an AMAZING documentary. Despite the general light-hearted tone, at several points the story strays towards more complex issues to do with race, identity, the economy, and celebrity culture. At these points you can almost feel the filmmakers putting the brakes on and returning to less provocative concerns. This is a shame, because the topic of Good Hair is clearly connected to a larger conversation about American society and politics. Perhaps for the film itself it is better that it avoids these subjects so to not change the tone of the film completely, but for this audience member’s money…I wanted more.
Oh, and it feels about fifteen minutes too long. I can’t remember the last time I watched a documentary and didn’t think that same thing. They have a tendency to ramble on. But then again, so do I.
So there you have it. The first three films I’ve seen through Cinefriends and my opinions therein. Thanks for reading this far if you’ve made it to the end. I salute your tenacity and officially owe you a high-5. Thanks too to Derby QUAD for letting me get involved with the group in the first place and sorting me out with tickets for each screening!
I’ll try to update with posts like this a bit more frequently (the second one should come next week!), but in the meantime make sure to keep an eye out for all these films (some may be hitting the DVD shelves soon) and let us know via the usual contact details if you agree or disagree with anything written above.