Monday, April 15, 2013

Side Smashed by Bully

     In today's clump of at home viewing options we cover a film about film (and video), an addiction drama, and a documentary about mean kids.  And with a flick of my distended tongue...

  Side By Side - This documentary delves into the debate among film makers over the digital revolution in film making.  As movies are being shot more and more often using digital technology, the industry has faced a backlash from film makers who believe that the photochemical process of recording images on film will always result in a superior product.  Meanwhile, camera makers have stopped development of new film cameras, signalling that the day is quickly approaching when video may become the ONLY medium upon which movies are shot.
     Even to a film buff like me, it sounds a little bit dry.  Surprisingly, it wasn't at all.  This blend of informative back story, clips of extraordinary camera work in both mediums and interviews with master film makers and cinematographers actually moved at a perfect pace to keep Side By Side engaging throughout.  Even narrator Keanu Reeves did a great job of stepping back just enough to keep the piece from ever becoming about him.  He wisely allowed the footage and responses of the interviewees to tell the story for him.
     If you have NO interest in the work that goes into film making behind the scenes, then this documentary is probably NOT for you.  This is the only reason that I do not give this debut effort from director Christopher Kenneally a perfect score.  If you DO have ANY interest in such subjects, then I would highly recommend giving the picture a try.  It's almost impossible for any real cinephile to feel disappointed by an opportunity to hear opinions on the craft from masters such as Martin Scorcese, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, David Lynch, The Wachowski siblings, Danny Boyle, James Cameron, George Lucas, Wally Pfister, Steven Soderburgh, Lars von Trier...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Smashed - I have not seen writer/director James Ponsoldt's one previous feature, Off the Black, and I'm sorry to say that viewing Smashed is not going to send me scrambling to correct this.  This relationship/addiction drama was a little too pat in storyline and a little too lackluster in general execution.  I WILL give the director credit, however, for pulling some FANTASTIC acting out of the superb cast.
     Praise for the acting must begin and end with star Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  In a film whose tone is seriously subdued, she manages to pull multiple extremes out of her character (Kate) without ever coming across as too much or ever breaking said tone.  We have seen MANY actresses play the role of a good woman who is also an alcoholic, but rarely have we seen an actress capture the multiple personalities that a person with addiction begins to develop with quite so much insight.  If you know someone with addiction, there is a point of rising intoxication in which they just flip (and a corresponding point on the way down, when the third persona comes out).  You can see the second that the change happens in their eyes.  I saw that moment in Ms. Winstead's. Every time.
     The supporting cast is also unanimously strong.  Aaron Paul has the most sizable role as Kate's husband.  The part is not that far of a cry from his character in Breaking Bad in many ways, but he plays it deftly.  Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, Megan Mulally, and Mary Kay Place also shine in smaller roles.  These performers keep the film more than watchable, even if it does fail somewhat to say anything new about its topic...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Bully - High school bullying seems to be the new college hazing in American culture.  It has become a major topic of concern among educators and parents and has come to be regarded as one of the major causes of teen-age suicide attempts.  Many, of course, scoff at all the hoopla, saying kids will be kids, and that is just a part of growing up.  However you feel about the subject of bullying, I dare you to watch this documentary and not feel something for the kids affected by it.
     It has been almost ten years since Amandla!, the first and last previous documentary from film maker Lee Hirsch, but his skills don't seem to have gotten too rusty.  While there is nothing extraordinary about the structure or style of this piece, it does tell some touching and horrifying stories.  In viewing the film, I certainly was moved to empathy for the victims.  You expect when watching such a movie to remember times when you felt bullied.  The triumph of Bully, however is that the perspective it provides is well rounded enough to lead the viewer to remember themselves in the opposite role as well, and confront the Bully within themselves.  There is some degree of course language, but this is still a great one to watch WITH your kids and talk about afterwards...4 of 5 stars. 

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