A Trip To The Movies: Review – “Amy” 7.11.15

In what was yet another example of a documentary I walked into with a total clean slate. Having totally been shut myself off from anything deemed “popular music” for the past 15 years or so (a rather deliberate move on my part) I knew little to next to nothing about this new film about the life, work, and career of the late Amy Winehouse. The very little I did know was that she became popular in the early to mid-2000’s, had her fair share of trouble with bouts of drugs and alcohol, and was yet another in a long string of famous musicians who passed away tragically of a substance abuse related death at the tender ripe young age of 27. That and it was directed by the British documentarian Asif Kapadia, whose last documentary about the Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, was one of my favorite documentaries of 2010. Lastly, I love all kinds of music, even despite my comment about popular music, and like most people I have a curious fascination for beloved artists who die tragically young. Mostly because I’m interested in exploring one main central idea – “but why”?

The film opens with one of many fly on the wall, home movies, of a young Amy, singing at the birthday party for one of her friends. It’s one of many intimate scenes layered throughout where the fillmmaker shows archival footage of Ms. Winehouse singing, writing, and recording music. But I’ll go on to talk about that a bit more later. We then follow Amy as she begins to seriously pursue a career in music. Which at about 16 years of age she started rather young. As she begins to get discovered by serious record labels, there’s a pivotal scene which was one of my favorites as it shows a young Amy, 18 at the time, playing impromptu with just a guitar in front of some major label players, and the whole room (including probably everyone in the theater) is just absolutely blown away by her level of talent. One of the spectators sums it up perfectly – “if she sounds this good at 18, could you possibly only imagine what she’ll sound like at 25”. She attains commercial success through her debut album – 2003’s “Frank” which was when she really started to become recognized by the industry at large.Though still kept as sort of a soon to be discovered secret just waiting to take off. it’s during this period that she gets involved in a serious relationship. One of which would involve a man she would fall madly in love with her only to unexpectedly pick up and leave her. This seems to act as major turning point in the film, as she starts to develop a pretty serious dependency with alcohol. her friends, colleagues, and family take notice. And while everyone is pointing towards rehab, the young Winehouse takes her dad’s advice and chooses not to go (which she would go on to write one of her most famous songs about this experience – “Rehab”). Then, three years later at just 21 years of age, she would release the #1 album of the 21st century (so far) 2006’s “Back to Black” which brought her to new heights of international acclaim and worldwide celebrity. Winehouse talks openly and rather candidly in a series of interviews both before and after she reaches this level of success about how she feels about fame, fortune, and her music. As her fame continues to grow and grow and grow, her personal life dismantles and her drinking increases along with being diagnosed as having bulimia. Ultimately and tragically, she succumbs to her own personal demons and well, you know the rest of the story.

“Amy” winds up being one of the most compelling, fascinating, and utterly devastating documentaries that I’ve personally seen of almost any artist this year (one of the members of my meetup.com group called it “the best documentary that he’s ever seen”). This in year where so far, we’ve gotten documentaries about Kurt Cobain (“Montage of Heck”) and Elliott Smith (“Heaven Adores You”). What was different and so interesting about this particularly documentary comparatively speaking in relation to those two. Was the brilliant treatment of the story. As was it one of the most well assembled and constructed documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. Which really speaks to Kapadia as a filmmaker and documentarian. He does a masterful job at creating a comprehensive look at the entire life of an artist, from beginning to end, without following any sort of documentary tropes in nothing in it felt one-sided (one of my major criticisms of the art form itself – take any film by Michael Moore for example). It doesn’t seem to have any sort of “agenda” other than to present the audience with the events that transpired in her life. Another thing worth pointing out was the amazing footage they were able to acquire (apparently it was assembled from over 100 hours of footage). As someone who looks at the advent of technology as the downfall of the human race. I couldn’t help but think here how much would have been lost without it, as much of the film is shown through a series of home movies and interviews that were captured and recorded by whatever the newest technology that was out at the time. So for that I was grateful to be allowed such unprecedented access to Winehouse’s life story. And while although a major part of Winehouse’s story is about her bouts with substance abuse, like the Elliott Smith documentary, it does a great job acknowledging how self destructive it can be. But instead of turning it into some cautionary tale of the horrors of addiction. It simply shows this as simply being “was what it was”. Instead choosing to focus on the music as its focal point. Amy Winehouse was and is without one of if not the greatest singer-songwriters of the post-2000 generation. And even though she died far too young, she left behind a legacy that will continue to influence generations of artists to come.


This Weekend’s Meetup! “Amy” – Sat, 7/11 at 4pm (3:30-3:45 Out Front) at Cin 21

Saturday, Jul 11, 2015, 4:00 PM

Cinema 21
616 NW 21st Ave Portland, OR

8 Portland Film Enthusiasts Went

This weekend marks the Portland release date of the new documentary about the career, life, and work of the late singer Amy Winehouse. Opening to incredible praise and positive reviews across the board. This seems like it’s going to be one not to miss! We will meet under the Cinema 21 marquee at 3:30 sharp (though I will wait until 15 mins before s…

Check out this Meetup →

DVD Review: “Listen Up Philip” 3.13.15

This particular movie piqued my interest after having seen it wind up on many of last year’s top 10 lists from quite a few film critics. A movie that virtually seemed to fall under the radar by most yet even despite of its positive reviews. These are the exact types of films that I thrive on seeking out. As a lot of the time when I take a chance with something that I know little to next to nothing about, I sometimes come away feeling a great sense of having found that hidden gem that I can then spread the word about to the film aficionado friends that I know. If it winds up being disappointing…well, that’s not what really matters. It’s the hope of seeing something new and exciting that drives me to want to see a film that some may hold in a high regard that goes unseen by most if not all of the American public. Such was the case with this film. It played in a very limited release at one of our more local art house, independent cinemas here in Portland that only showcases the kinds of films that fall into this particularly kind of category. That and I’ve always been quite fond of the film’s lead, Jason Schwartzman, having feeling like I’ve almost seemingly grown up right alongside him when he wowed both audiences and critics a like with his breakthrough debut performance in Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore” (1998), which was a major movie for me in terms of my starting to develop an appreciation for both the art of film and its language. I also was intrigued by the film’s supporting cast which boasted Elizabeth Moss (who seems to be showing up everywhere lately, most notably in last year’s trippy SciFi romantic comedy/mindfuck – “The One I Love”) whom I also loved in one of the most underrated, overlooked, and unseen made for cable miniseries – Australian filmmaker Jane Campion’s fantastic murder mystery “Top of the Lake” (2013) which gave me a much deeper appreciation for Moss who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Miniseries for her performance in it. Rounding out the impressive cast was the great Bristish stage and screen actor Jonathan Pryce, who has and will always stick out for me from his lead performance in Terry Gilliam’s undisputed masterpiece “Brazil” (1985). This looked to be one that had the potential to be of great promise, considering the actors involved and the great reviews I had glanced at about it.

The titular character, Philip (played by Schwartzman), is a New York City writer who at first seems so obsessed with himself, so self-absorbed, that he comes across as highly unlikable (think Jeff Daniels’ in Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” (2005) ). He’s a bigot, arrogant, pretentious, and narcissistic. One of those better than everyone young writer types who on the heels of having only published one novel to date but who got critical acclaim for, thinks he’s gods gift to just about everybody he meets. But what’s different from his character than say the Jeff Daniels comparison, is that he’s well aware of all of these things, and we as the viewer are informed of this, throughout most of the film actually, in a brilliant voice over narration by none other than the Eric Bogosian (in what I found to be some of the better use of voiceover since Alec Baldwin’s work on another Schwartzman film – Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) ). It seems like every relationship, from Philip’s ex to his now current girlfriend (Moss) is doomed for failure. As he is not willing to recognize anybody’s else’s accomplishments rather than that of his own. Which makes him a likely candidate for most difficult person to be in a relationship with. He does however find solace in another writer Ike (played by the excellent Pryce), an aging writer who has seen his day, and who like Philip, is so selfish that he willfully seems to push away just about every person in his life. The two are almost mirror images of one another. And when Ike invites Philip to his summer home in upstate New York to escape the ever-growing and anxiety ridden demands of the big city life, Philip jumps at the opportunity to stay with his mentor, as he attempts to get his second novel published.

The film winds up being a mostly enjoyable dramedy, with elements of both dark humor and serious drama as the screenplay really attempts to give us, the viewer, full access into the world of Philip and the two different sides in which he projects – his overly confident, cocky exterior as well as the self loathing and deprecation that’s going on in the interior. Schwartzman handles the role rather deftly, and proves to his once again why he has the residual staying power that he’s had as an actor, despite having a number of notable films under his belt and still being as young as he is. The script and story itself reminded me of something out of the Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, and Wes Anderson cannon. In that there’s a sad, underlying tone with moments of great comedy on display. Juggling several genre elements all jumbled up into one rather remarkably. Which is a testament to its writer director, Alex Ross Perry, who has a couple of features under his belt but this seeming like essentially his debut film, which is mightily impressive given that he is barely 30 years old. The script is razor-sharp, smart, witty, and darkly funny. And came across as being more deeply rooted in reality than a lot of the other increasing number of films that I’ve seen from this genre as of late. While we look at Philip’s character with disdain, there’s also a human element that resides within him that comes across as universal, authentic, and real. This wound up being a mostly rewarding experience, even if it did wind up feeling slightly familiar at times to films like the ones of early Woody Allen. Recommended for those interested in the independent, romantic dramedy genre looking for something new and fresh and for fans of Schwartzman. As this one should have raised a few more eyebrows than it did, and at least to me, seems like it should have gotten quite a bit more attention than it ultimately wound up getting.


Review: ‘The Double’ 8.31.14

If Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’ is the best movie about middle aged adults falling in love, and Richard Linklater’s “Before Trilogy” is the best set of films about twenty/thirtysomething’s falling in love, then Richard Ayoade’s 2010 remarkable debut – ‘Submarine’ (which made my top 10 films of that year) has got to be the best film about teenagers falling in love. I remember being so moved by ‘Submarine’, so touched, both in its humanity and the way in which its characters were treated. I remember thinking “who is this Ayoade guy”? But at the time I didn’t really care. What I did know is that I just lay witness to one of the most refreshing young talents who made one of the strongest debuts in as far back as I can remember.

So it was only fitting that I would be heavily anticipating Ayoade’s sophomore effort. Especially because from the little bit I read I heard it was more or less an extension of his singular style, his ability to create something new and inventive, while also not conforming to any of Hollywood’s typical movie tropes. All things that were apparent if you saw ‘Submarine’ (and if you haven’t I would highly encourage you to do so). This, co-written and directed by Ayoade, with Avi Korine (Harmony’s brother also getting a co-writing credit), and based loosely on a novel penned by the famous 19th century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Plus starring both Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska (is there anything this talented young actress isn’t in?). I thought this had the pedigree to be a great film. And for the most part it is. Set in the future, or a setting that gives no indication of space or time, and the story taking place below ground (at least it appeared to me to), following the central character, Eisenberg, who plays his usual awkward, unconfident, nervous self, but which in this case winds up suiting the material well. Who witnesses an attempted suicide while spying on his love interest through a telescope (a nod to Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’), here played by Wasikowska, only to show up the next day to work and there’s a carbon copy of himself, a doppelganger, and that’s where things really start to get interesting. Throughout, I couldn’t stop thinking of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 masterpiece – ‘Brazil’, as this film felt a lot like it in both feel and tone. It’s peculiar, quirky, and very bizarre. It presents the viewer with a lot of questions – are the 2 Eisenberg’s switching identities? Obsessions? Are they both the same person just different versions of one another? This is a film, much like ‘Enemy’, that will have you asking yourself a lot of similar questions throughout. It’s a completely original, highly unique, and singular work. And proves once again that Ayoade is one of the more fresh, talented, and original voices on the filmmaking scene today. This is one that will most likely wind up on my list of Honorable Mentions (#’s 10-20) by year’s end.

Grade: strong B

Review: ‘A Pervert’s Guide To Ideology’ 7.26.14

Directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph and Joseph) and written by and starring Slavoj Zizek (who is like a modern day Sigmund Freud). This incredibly insightful and fascinating documentary explains how different ideologies are incorporated into some of our favorite films. Similar to last year’s documentary ‘Room 237′, we are given different analyses of a film, except rather than theories surrounding them, Zizek goes so far as to try and present these underlying meanings, hidden ideologies, and theories as facts. And does a very convincing job at it. He discusses psychoanalysis’ relation to cinema, how commodities and product placement are deliberately placed along with religion, consumerism, as well as political ideologies with a focus on Communism, Socialism, and Marxism. Which I found compelling in not only his different examples but even more than that, it really got me thinking and viewing some of these films a lot differently having them put into a different kind of context and ideological framework. This is essential viewing if you like deeper explanations into film and/or at the very basic level, consider yourself to be a student of film.

Grade: A-

Also, I thought I would include the movies below that they either shows clips from or analyzes long segments of. If only to wet your beak:

‘The Dark Knight’
‘Full Metal Jacket’
‘I Am Legend’
‘They Live’
‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’
‘Taxi Driver’
‘A Clockwork Orange’
‘The Last Temptation of Christ’
…to name a few