Tuesday, March 15, 2005

DAY TWO: A Gift for the Father

Uh-oh, I'm getting behind. Without further ado... I saw some music videos on Saturday, which I'll review later, and two films:

Tell Them Who You Are ***1/2
A fascinating documentary revealing the personal life of legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler, by his son Mark Wexler. There are some incredible moments here that could never have been captured, had the subject been anyone but Wexler. He is famously ultra-left wing, while his son is politically apathetic (leaning conservative, probably to differentiate himself from his father). Their relationship is difficult, because Wexler is a difficult man. He is very opinionated and not very inclined to soften his criticism, even for his son.

This is where the film became particularly interesting to me. As Haskell Wexler began his career primarily as a documentarian, he is critiquing his son throughout the film for both his camerawork and his ideas about how to make a documentary about someone. So the film is very self-aware about its own process.

It is also interesting to see and have Mark Wexler himself acknowledge the mistakes he makes early on in the process of shooting his father. For one, he lost some interviews with some great stars at a party, because he wasn't monitoring the audio. But by the end of shooting you can tell that he's improved, and his editor did a great job of fashioning a terrific film from the footage.

The Puffy Chair ***
It's a road trip comedy, but one that stands alone as something completely new. The combination of a great script and great actors creates three characters who really seem like people you have known.

A twenty-something has ordered a puffy armchair online that is exactly like one his father used to own and love. He is going to go on a road trip down the east coast, pick the chair up along the way, and take it to his father for his birthday. Tagging along are his girlfriend, with whom things are not going altogether smoothly, and his brother, who invites himself.

The puffy chair and the road trip and the brother are catalysts, by which the boy and his girlfriend have their relationship tested. The story flows well and is very intelligent about portraying a relationship falling apart. Some may think it ends rather abruptly, but it's quite symmetrical with the introduction. And the final scene with the father (played by the father of the Duplass brothers, who wrote, directed and star in the film) is excellent.


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