Monday, April 28, 2014

Short Cut Movie Review: The Armstrong Lie

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Documentarian Alex Gibney set out in 2009 to make a film chronicling Lance Armstrong’s improbable comeback after a four year hiatus following his astonishing record-breaking feat of winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times. What Gibney slowly discovered was that he was beginning to be viewed in some circles as making a kind of sycophantic fan film for a man many believed to be a liar, a cheat, and ruthless in the use of his power an celebrity to maintain a code of silence surrounding the rampant doping that we now know the U.S. team was engaged in.

When it later became clear that charges of doping were going to be inescapable for Armstrong and that he would be likely be stripped of his Tour titles, Gibney shifted the focus of the story and ended up producing The Armstrong Lie. He opens the film with Armstrong talking mere hours after his Oprah interview during which he admitted to the American public that he’d been doping nearly his entire professional career, specifically during all of his incredible Tour de France wins. This certainly wasn’t breaking news to anyone who’d ridden with or against him and not even to anyone who pays any kind of attention to professional cycling. What was shocking was that he actually, after years and years of vehement denials and standing behind Livestrong, the cancer awareness foundation for which he’d raised millions of dollars, owned up to it, putting his professional life even outside of cycling in jeopardy.

The film never really amounts to a great deal, mainly because most of us know the story. There’s no big revelation to be discovered, no unlikely turn of events that hadn’t already saturated the sports media for years. If nothing else, there’s a certain fascination in seeing how Armstrong handles himself now that he’s owned his culpability. There’s no tearful remorse and little to evoke sympathy for any plight. His biggest regret appears to be attempting the 2009 comeback, without which most people tend to agree he would have remained “clean” in the eyes of International Cycling. It’s also pretty difficult t condemn yourself when you know that every one of your rivals was using similar methods of illicit performance enhancement. For all the guys interviewed who have since received lifetime bans for doping, it was always just matter of fact that to compete at that level, doping is a must. It seems to me that’s where the interesting story is. What would it take to actually make the sport truly clean? And what happens t the guys who abandon their pursuit early on in the face of refusal to cheat.

The Unknown Known Movie Review

There is certainly a strong kinship between, and a through line connecting, Errol Morris’s 2002 documentary The Fog of War, whose subject was former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and his latest, The Unknown Known, in which he sits down for a series of lengthy interviews with the linguistically elusive Donald Rumsfeld. In the earlier film, McNamara illustrated eleven lessons from his professional life in the Air Force and, in the Cabinets of both Kennedy and Johnson, the architect of the Vietnam War. He proved himself reflective and introspective, a man willing to examine his choices and the decisions of presidents and other high level officials, and say that something was wrong. It would be shocking to expect a similar ‘get’ from Rumsfeld and of course it never comes. But that’s not really what Morris is after.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Under the Skin Movie Review

A decade after his last feature, Jonathan Glazer returns after the critical and commercial failure of Birth (unseen by me) with a film so beguiling, bewitching, off the wall, and off the charts that it begs to be seen by even the most skeptical of viewers. Under the Skin is certainly not for everyone and I don’t mean that in terms of content. The directorial method and storytelling structure are often maddeningly oblique. The screenplay by Glazer and Walter Campbell is based on Michel Faber’s novel of the same name, although from my reading of Wikipedia’s description, it’s really more a jumping off point.

From My Collection: Bright Star Movie Review

Depicting an artist at work in a film is a tricky thing. The possibilities are greater when dealing with the visual arts because the process of creation is dynamic. But when it comes to filming the story of a writer, what can the filmmaker do to depict process? After all, what is a writer’s process in the majority of cases if not to sit at a desk and think…and write…and drink coffee…and think…and wait for ideas or inspiration? This does not make for very interesting cinema. So the most interesting films centered on writers tend to focus on something that is only tangentially connected to the writing or the finished product. Jane Campion’s Bright Star was a mesmerizing love story to me when I first saw it nearly four years ago and it remained so when I watched it again recently. The movie circumvents the problems of filming a writer’s life and work by making the story about the poet John Keats’ three year unconsummated love affair with Fanny Brawne.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Noah Movie Review

I guess the hokeyness of the Biblical epic film was just waiting for a rebirth. We could count Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ as the start of a new wave, but it’s more torture porn than uplifting. When Darren Aronofsky decides to tackle a Bible story, even when granted a mega-millions budget by a major studio, you have to expect something a little beyond the ordinary, if not quite extraordinary.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

25 Years Ago This Month: Field of Dreams Movie Review

It’s amazing how, not even being a fan of baseball, I can still be moved by the nostalgia that drips off Field of Dreams. I hadn’t watched it since I was a kid, and I remembered it as being sort of overly sentimental and hackneyed, but as an adult, as a grown man who has learned to appreciate America and history and our collective cultural consciousness, Phil Alden Robinson’s adaptation of W.P. Kinsella’s fantasy novel stands out as a modern cinema classic.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

25 Years Ago This Month: April 1989

We begin with what I've seen...

The biggest release of the month was Field of Dreams, still considered a sports movie classic starring Kevin Costner as a man compelled by voices to build a baseball diamond in his mid-west cornfield. He believes he was being guided in order to bring back the disgraced Chicago Black Sox - the eight players banned for life after taking money to throw the World Series in 1919. But the end has quite a different surprise in store. Ray Liotta plays "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and James Earl Jones has some wonderfully well-spoken lines and one classic speech about the timelessness of baseball.