Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 catch-up, part three

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey (documentary, dir. Constance Marks)
Maybe I just don't have the same affinity for Elmo that other people do, but I thought this documentary about the puppeteer who performs as Elmo, Kevin Clash, was seriously bland and dull. Clash is clearly a very nice and talented guy, but this movie traces his completely uninteresting journey in a flat, TV-special style, with cheesy music and uninspiring visuals. Other than Clash's fairly humble origins, there's no conflict or adversity to his story; this is a movie about a guy who achieved everything he ever wanted with relative ease. That's great for him and great for the millions who love Elmo, but it makes for a pretty boring movie.

Bill Cunningham New York (documentary, dir. Richard Press)
This is a nice complement to (and improvement upon) Page One: Inside the New York Times, which suffered from a lack of focus and a superficial approach to the interesting personalities it showcased. Cunningham is a Times staffer who didn't appear in Page One, but his story is more affecting and fascinating than anything in that movie. The 80-year-old Cunningham is still vibrantly engaged in his work, photographing fashion in New York from the streets to society parties to runway shows. His enthusiasm and passion infuse the film, which is beautifully joyous. There's a small undercurrent of sadness in Cunningham's relative solitude, his tiny apartment and lack of romantic relationships, but it's overshadowed by the sheer pleasure that Cunningham takes in his work and in sharing the wonder of fashion with others. Press perfectly captures all of that joy and wonder, with Cunningham as his gleeful, endlessly knowledgeable guide. The result is my favorite documentary of the year.

Like Crazy (Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, dir. Drake Doremus)
It's love story as jeans commercial in this pretty but entirely superficial romance about two cardboard young people who face contrived obstacles to their generic relationship. I've always found Yelchin to be a charisma vacuum, and although Jones can be charming (and is quite lovely), I never really bought into the central relationship. Doremus offers up almost no information about the two young lovers as people, so almost all we know about them is that they're really into each other, and even that is covered mostly in montages (this is a very montage-y movie). Doremus has some visually inventive ways of illustrating the passage of time, and some of the shot composition is gorgeous in a magazine-spread sort of way, but the overall look is more like an ad than an engaging drama. As another critic noted, this is like a romantic comedy with all the comedy taken out.

Poetry (Yun Jeong-hie, Lee Da-wit, Ahn Nae-sang, dir. Lee Chang-dong)
I remember finding Lee's 2002 film Oasis deliberately off-putting and unpleasant, but Poetry has a lot more beauty and dignity, even if Lee can't resist throwing in at least one self-consciously grotesque sex scene. But he has a lot of affection for his main character, a well-meaning older woman who's struggling with the early stages of Alzheimer's while trying to take care of her ungrateful teenage grandson. As her mind is slowly starting to deteriorate, she decides to take a poetry class, and she struggles throughout the movie to compose the first and only poem of her life. That effort is given equal weight as the woman's troubles with her grandson, who's accused of being part of a group of boys whose repeated rapes of a local girl drove her to suicide. Despite the heavy subject matter, Poetry has a sort of sweetness to it, and the woman's determination to create one beautiful work of art before her life ends is touching. It can be a chore at times, especially in the scenes that involve the main character taking care of a disabled elderly man, but Poetry is far more life-affirming than it might at first appear to be.

No comments: