Thursday, January 19, 2017

Movie Review: Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe
Directed by: Mira Nair. 
Written by: William Wheeler based on the article and book by Tim Crothers.
Starring: Madina Nalwanga (Phiona Mutesi), David Oyelowo (Robert Katende), Lupita Nyong'o (Nakku Harriet), Martin Kabanza (Mugabi Brian), Taryn Kyaze (Night), Ivan Jacobo (Young Richard), Nicolas Levesque (Older Richard), Ronald Ssemaganda (Ivan), Ethan Nazario Lubega (Benjamin), Nikita Waligwa (Gloria), Edgar Kanyike (Joseph), Esther Tebandeke (Sara Katende), Hope Katende (Hope Katende), Philip Luswata (Minister Aloysius Kyazze), Peter Odeke (Enoch Barumba), Maurice Kirya (Theo). 
I am a sucker for inspirational sports movies – even though for the most part, you know precisely how they are going to turn out from the moment the movie starts. Chess may not be a sport, but Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe still plays like one of those movies – where a genius from an unexpected place rises up to become a champion, when no one else believed in them. Queen of Katwe follows the well-worn formula well – and for the most part it works, even if chess isn’t the most cinematic of games (oddly though, I think chess probably has to be the board game with the most movies made about it though, right). I was only really let down by the ending – which seems to be too long and drawn out, as if we didn’t quite get the inspirational ending we were going for before, so let’s just keeping going until we do. It’s there when the film feels forced and awkward, a shame because so much of it works.
The film is set in Uganda, and stars newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi, who is amongst the poorest of the poor in her town of Katwe. A young teacher, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) starts teaching the local children chess, and even many of them start by looking down on Phiona – and mocking her for the way she smells. She’s one of four children, being raise by Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) – who has her kids selling corn on the street, otherwise none of them will eat. Harriet isn’t crazy about two her kids playing chess instead of working – but is convinced by Robert, who can tell, quite early, that Phiona has a natural feeling for the game. When she beats the boy who up until then was the class champion, he wants to know where she learned her moves – which of his books she studied. But she didn’t study any of them – she cannot even read at all. She just saw the game many moves ahead, and could intuit how to win. From there, Robert finds ways to get Phiona, and his other kids, into chess tournaments around Uganda – where they are often looked down upon, or at best as charity cases to be pitied. That is until Phiona wins. He also helps them to get an actual education as well – seeing a different life for them.
The film is directed by Mira Nair, the Indian director, who has knows Uganda well – she has set parts of her earlier films there, and has worked with various groups to promote filmmaker through the country. Her natural feel for the locations help the film a great deal – she doesn’t shoot it as an exotic locale, but as a place where people live and work, and try to survive. She gets fine performances out of Oyelowo and Oscar winner Nyong’o – who admittedly are playing fairly clichéd characters, but do their best to make them feel real, and especially out of newcomer Nalwanga, who excels in the first 90 minutes as the incredibly smart, yet somewhat insecure Phiona. She’s on less solid footing in the final act – where Phiona has grown bored by her life in Katwe, and wants out – but by the then, the movie as a whole is dragging, and feels more artificial than it did at first the strain to keep up a narrative this well-trodden starts to show.
The film mainly works – and for those who perhaps have seen fewer of these inspirational sports movies from Disney maybe well like it more than I did. Yes, it’s about chess, but you don’t need to know much about the game to get the film – I think one of the issues with the movie is to try to appeal to a wider, Disney-approved audience, the film doesn’t even bother to try to touch upon the intricacies of the game, or what makes Phiona so good at it, compared to everyone else. The movie is about as clichéd as they come – yet it’s still somewhat refreshing to see a movie like this, about people in Africa, whose story hasn’t been filtered through some well-meaning white guy. For that alone, perhaps Queen of Katwe deserves to be more wildly seen than it was when it was released last falls.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Oscar Nomination Predictions

I'm going to be honest with you - I've paid far less attention this year to the Oscar race than normal, and kind of threw these predictions together at the last minute - when I realize that the nominations were coming out next Tuesday, and that I'll be in New York all weekend, and wouldn't have time to write a full post on it. (and no, when my wife and I booked the tripin New York - in June, around when we could get Hamilton tickets, we did not realize it would be Inauguration Weekend - hopefully, we make it out). Anyway, below are my picks in each of the categories (aside from the shorts) - I'm probably off, but this seems like the most likely scenario to me. I'll be back on Tuesday to give my more detailed thoughts on the nominees.

Best Picture
  1. La La Land
  2. Moonlight
  3. Manchester by the Sea
  4. Hell or High Water
  5. Arrival
  6. Hidden Figures
  7. Lion
  8. Fences
  9. Hacksaw Ridge
  10. Nocturnal Animals
11th Man: Silence
Best Director
  1. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  2. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  3. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
  4. Denis Villenueve, Arrival
  5. Garth Davis, Lion
6th White: David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water
Best Actor
  1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  2. Denzel Washington, Fences
  3. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  4. Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  5. Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
6th Man: Joel Edgerton, Loving
Best Actress
  1. Emma Stone, La La Land
  2. Amy Adams, Arrival
  3. Natalie Portman, Jackie
  4. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
  5. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
6th Man: Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Best Supporting Actor
  1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  2. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
  3. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals
  4. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
  5. Dev Patel, Lion
6th Man: Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Best Suppporting Actress
  1. Viola Davis, Fences
  2. Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
  3. Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  4. Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
  5. Nicole Kidman, Lion
6th Man: Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
div style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;"> Best Original Screenplay
  1. Manchester by the Sea
  2. La La Land
  3. Hell or High Water
  4. The Lobster
  5. 20th Century Women
6th Man: Toni Erdmann
Best Adapted Screenplay
  1. Moonlight
  2. Arrival
  3. Hidden Figures
  4. Lion
  5. Fences
6th Man: Nocturnal Animals
Best Animated Film
  1. Zootopia
  2. Moana
  3. Kubo and the Two Strings
  4. Finding Dory
  5. The Red Turtle
6th Man: Miss Hokusai
Best Documentary
  1. 13th
  2. OJ: Made in America
  3. Weiner
  4. I Am Not Your Negro
  5. Fire at Sea
6th Man: Cameraperson/Gleason/Life Animated/Tower
Best Foreign Language Film
  1. Toni Erdmann
  2. A Man Called Ove
  3. The Salesman
  4. Land of Mine
  5. It’s Only the End of the World
6th Man: Tanna
Best Cinematography
  1. La La Land
  2. Silence
  3. Moonlight
  4. Arrival
  5. Jackie
6th Man: Lion
Best Editing
  1. La La Land
  2. Moonlight
  3. Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Arrival
  5. Manchester by the Sea
6th Man: Sully
Best Score
  1. La La Land
  2. Moonlight
  3. The BFG
  4. Jackie
  5. Hidden Figures
6th Man: Kubo and the Two Strings
Best Song
  1. La La Land – City of Stars
  2. Moana - How Far I’ll Go
  3. La La Land – Audition
  4. Hidden Figures – Runnin’
  5. Moana – We Know the Way
6th Man: Trolls – Can’t Stop the Feeling
Best Costume Design
  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  2. La La Land
  3. Jackie
  4. Allied
  5. Florence Foster Jenkins
6th Man: Hail, Caesar!
Best Production Design
  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  2. Hail Caesar!
  3. La La Land
  4. Jackie
  5. Arrival
6th Man: Silence
Best Sound Mixing
  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  2. La La Land
  3. Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Arrival
  5. Sully
6th Man: Doctor Strange
Best Sound Editing
  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  2. Hacksaw Ridge
  3. The Jungle Book
  4. Deepwater Horizon
  5. Arrival
6th Man: Sully
Best Makeup/Hairstyling
  1. Star Trek Beyiond
  2. Deadpool
  3. Florence Foster Jenkins
4th Man: A Man Called Over
Best Visual Effects
  1. The Jungle Book
  2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  3. Doctor Strange
  4. Arrival
  5. Deepwater Horizon
6th Man: Kubo and the Two Strings

Monday, January 16, 2017

Movie Review: 20th Century Women

20th Century Women
Directed by: Mike Mills.
Written by: Mike Mills.
Starring: Annette Bening (Dorothea), Greta Gerwig (Abbie), Elle Fanning (Julie), Lucas Jade Zumann (Jamie), Billy Crudup (William), Alia Shawkat (Trish).
Like his last film, Beginners (2011), writer-director Mike Mills based his latest, 20th Century Women, on his own life. Beginners was about his father (played in an Oscar winning performance by Christopher Plummer), who comes out as gay in his 80s, shortly after his wife of 40 years (Mary Kay Pace) died. He’s known he was gay for years, but didn’t want to end his marriage – something he thought was kind, but was actually more than a little cruel (in that film, the mother is clearly miserable – trapped in a loveless marriage that she, as well, doesn’t leave). 20th Century Women is about that woman – who is clearly the same character, even though she’s now played by Annette Bening, and unlike in Beginners, actually does get a divorce from her husband (entirely absent here). The film takes place in 1979, and Dorothea (Bening), who had her now 15 year old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) when she was 40 is unsure if she is enough to raise Jamie to be a good man. She enlists those around her to help. She lives in a ramshackle house in Southern California, with a couple of tenants – Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a 20-something would-be rebel, who is recovering from cervical cancer which has completely thrown her life off course, and William (Billy Crudup), a kind of handyman, who hasn’t quite grasped the ‘60s are over, although he’s well-meaning enough. Dorothea tried to have William be a positive male role model for Jamie – but that didn’t take, so now she’s reaching out to Abbie, and Jamie’s best friend – Julie (Elle Fanning), a couple years older, hoping that if they share their life with Jamie, he will grow up better.
To be honest, this whole plot about Abbie and Julie helping to raise Jamie is easily the weakest part in the film. It feels contrived in a way that the rest of the film doesn’t, and every time anyone discusses the arrangement, the film hits a false note. That’s too bad, because when the film is simply sitting back and observing these characters, it’s excellent. It’s that rare film in which you truly do get the sense that you get to know the main characters – aided by Mills decision to (as he did in Beginners), provide voiceovers letting you know where these characters are going to end up. That puts a kind of bittersweet coda to the film – but rings true. These characters are incredibly close, a makeshift family for this specific time in their lives – but they aren’t a real family, and will drift apart. The other weak part of the film, aside from the contrived plot, is oddly Jamie himself – who we assume is based on Mills. Unlike Dorothea and Abbie and Julie – and hell, even William – he isn’t a particularly interesting character, and it forces the narrative into a familiar coming-of-age arc.
These flaws standout in 20th Century Women mostly because while the film resembles a Sundance-ready hit indie film – a dramedy about a group of quirky people dealing with their quirkiness – the film feels more realistic than those, more lived in. The contrivances stand out in other words, because the vast majority of the film isn’t contrived at all – and those are the parts that border in greatness. Bening is excellent as Dorothea, a woman who truly is trying. Trying to understand her son, trying to understand the times she lives in (she is a product of the Depression, and much of what she seems is strange to her). Yet, unlike typical movie parents – or many parents in real life, she doesn’t try to shut down what she doesn’t understand, but actively tries to understand it. She follows Abbie to clubs playing punk music – even if she hates it (one of the best scenes in the film is when she and William listen to Black Flag and the Talking Heads back-to-back – and together they wonder if Black Flag know they’re terrible – they think they do). As Dorothea, Bening actually seems to be listening to everything be said around her, taking it all in, and trying to process it. It’s a marvelous performance. Greta Gerwig is equally good as Abbie – on the surface, adding another lovable, 20-something eccentric to her resume, and to an extent she is. But her Abbie has more weight than most – she’s had to deal with cancer, which has thrown her life off-balance. She’s supposed to be in the art scene in New York – where she was briefly, and was happy, and now she’s dealing with some pretty heavy stuff that she shouldn’t have to. It ranks among her best work to date. And Elle Fanning continues her string of strong performances – even if on the surface, the concept of a depressed, chain-smoking teenage girl who acts out against her life with promiscuous behavior seems clichéd on the surface, she finds interesting depths to it. Fanning continues to impress – adding this to her impressive work in The Neon Demon, Ginger & Rosa, Super 8 and Somewhere among others.
Mills is a fine director, and an even better writer. The only thing I wish about 20th Century Women is that perhaps he made it a little less autobiographical – that in this case, he may have allowed the women to be the entire show (with Crudup as comic relief – he’s great at that here) – and leave Jamie out entirely. Because when the film ignores its plot – when it ignores Jamie – it’s great.

Movie Review: Patriots Day

Patriots Day
Directed by: Peter Berg.   
Written by: Peter Berg & Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg (Sergeant Tommy Saunders), John Goodman (Ed Davis), J. K. Simmons (Jeffrey Pugliese), Vincent Curatola (Thomas Menino), Michelle Monaghan (Carol Saunders), Kevin Bacon (Richard DesLauriers), Alex Wolff (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev), Themo Melikidze (Tamerlan Tsarnaev), Michael Beach (Deval Patrick), James Colby (William Evans), Jimmy O. Yang (Dun Meng), Rachel Brosnahan (Jessica Kensky), Melissa Benoist (Katherine Russell), Khandi Alexander (Police Interrogator).
Patriots Day marks the third, and best, of the collaborations between director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg – all of which take a moment of tragedy, and turned it into an action movie. The first of these was Lone Survivor, which recounted the 2005 incident in which a group of American soldiers were killed by the Taliban (the one who wasn’t, was of course, played by Wahlberg) – and the second being Deepwater Horizon, from last fall, about what happened on the floating oil rig that resulted in the worst environmental disaster in American history – and cost several people their lives. I didn’t much like Lone Survivor – despite the obvious skill that went into making it, it really did seem to fetishize violence in a way I found rather unseemly. Deepwater Horizon was better, yet I felt there that they went overboard to make John Malkovich into an almost mustache twirling villain – and avoided the larger implications of the disaster, essentially turning it all into the story of one man’s greed. Patriots Day is about the Boston Marathon bombing, and the aftermath that didn’t end until the two suspects were caught – or killed – less than a week later. It is the most impressively mounted film of the three Berg and Wahlberg have made together, incredibly intense, with multiple set pieces that would make Berg’s obvious influences (Michael Mann, Paul Greengrass) proud to call their own. The film is far from perfect though – it leans (far) too heavily on sentimentality at times, deliberately trying to induce tears with unnecessary and awkward speeches or lines of dialogue, and while putting pictures of the real life people in the end credits have become a staple in these sorts of films (Berg has done it before), here it almost leaves a bad taste in your mouth – especially since it pretty much accuses someone who has never been charged of a crime. The bigger problem though is Wahlberg himself – not because it’s a bad performance, but because it’s a wholly unnecessary one. His Tommy Saunders is a fictional creation – a way for Berg and company to filter everything through the perspective of one character for an emotional through line – an understandable impulse, but one that essentially makes this massive, collaborative effort, with so many interconnected parts, almost seem like it was done by one guy. It may have been more challenging to make a film like this without a single character as a focal point – it also would have been a hell of a lot more accurate, and be more respectful of the real life people involved.
The movie takes its time in its opening moments – setting up many of the characters involved, especially the fictional Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) a Detective, coming off of suspension, who is given the humiliating job of working the finish line at the Boston Marathon. It requires him to wear his uniform, and a Day-Glo vest, and complains to his wife (Michelle Monaghan) that he looks like an idiot. Still, he shows up – and the movie flashes around to several of the other people who played key roles that day – including a few of the people maimed (but none of the three who were killed) by the blast, various other cops, the bombers themselves, and the man the bombers will eventually carjack and try to get him to take them to New York to pull off another bombing.
There are moments here that are as intense as anything you’ll see in a movie theater this year. The bombing itself, even though it’s been setup well by Berg and company, still seems to come out of nowhere – a blast off in the corner of the screen, that sets off mass confusion and chaos, which Berg expertly handles for the next 10-15 minutes of screen time, following the investigation. Later, the carjacking of Dun Meng, and his drive with the bombers, is chilling, and Berg gradually ratchets up the tension, until his inevitable escape. The shootout on the streets of Watertown, which cost one bomber his life, is chaotic, and yet clear eyed. Berg knows how to stage action with the best of them – and he does a good job here. It’s also just interesting to watch the various cops and FBI agents do their job – trying hard to piece together a puzzle, even when they don’t know what they’re doing. An interrogation of one of the bombers wife, by an unnamed group within the government, is brilliantly played by Khandi Alexander as the interrogator, and Melissa Benoist, as the wife (the fact that the scene pretty much ends accusing someone never charged with a crime of being involved is unsettling to be sure – but it doesn’t diminish the impact of the scene).
Out of all the performances in the film, the two that really do stand out to be are Alex Wolff and Tehmo Melikidze as the Tsaenaev brothers themselves. Melikdze is chilling as the seemingly cold blood Tamerlan, the older of the two, and the true believer, who can barely even muster any real feelings for his wife and daughter. Alex Wolff is even better as the younger Dzhokhar, who seems almost goofy – as if he has adopted his persona from the American culture he is decrying, and acting to destroy. He’s almost like an overgrown kid, who doesn’t quite grasp what he’s responsible for.
The biggest mistake the movie makes is to filter it all through Wahlberg’s fictional Tommy Saunders – who seems to have a super human ability to be at every major event surrounding the bombing to witness it firsthand, and be the audience surrogate for our feelings. This undercuts what is remarkable about the response to the bombing though – the Boston Strong – that we all saw come together. This wasn’t one guy – and while the movie certainly doesn’t shy away from spreading the credit around, having one guy around undercuts it too much for me.
Peter Berg is a talented director – and has been for a while now – but he still hasn’t quite brought it all together to make a truly great movie. His craft – his staging of tense action sequences, and his ability to make people going about their work interesting, is excellent. But if he’s going to continue to make these “based on real events” action movies/thrillers, he should embrace the messiness of real life a little bit more.

Movie Review: Aquarius

Directed by: Kleber Mendonça Filho.   
Written by: Kleber Mendonça Filho.   
Starring: Sonia Braga (Clara), Maeve Jinkings (Ana Paula), Irandhir Santos (Roberval), Humberto Carrão (Diego), Zoraide Coleto (Ladjane), Fernando Teixeira (Geraldo Bonfim), Buda Lira (Antonio), Paula De Renor (Fátima), Barbara Colen (Clara em 1980), Daniel Porpino (Adalberto / Rodrigo), Pedro Queiroz (Tomás), Carla Ribas (Cleide), Germano Melo (Martin), Julia Bernat (Julia), Thaia Perez (Tia Lucia 1980). 
Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius is essentially a love letter to its star, Sonia Braga – the veteran Brazilian actress, who has carved out a successful career for herself, despite not getting a lot of truly great roles. Mendonça Filho clearly wants to change that, so he’s crafted this film all around Braga as Clara – a 65-year-old, widowed, recently retired music critic. She is the only resident left in her apartment building – the Aquarius – which has been bought by a powerful real estate developer, who wants to turn it all into high priced condos. But Clara doesn’t want to leave –and since she owns her apartment, they cannot really force her. But, they are going to try.
Aquarius is Mendonça Filho’s follow-up to his 2012 debut, Neighboring Sounds – which also revolved around an apartment building. The difference is that Neighboring Sounds was a large, expansive film – focusing on many different characters, from different backgrounds, taking in a large swath of Brazilian society. Oddly, Aquarius is much more narrowly focused – Braga is pretty much the whole show here – and yet it runs longer than Neighboring Sounds does. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Aquarius is undeniably too long and too repetitive to be a great film, which Neighboring Sounds was. A tighter film would likely be better. Yet, it’s hard it’s almost hard to fault Mendonça Filho too much here. He is clearly enamored with Braga, and her work, and wants to show it off. And Braga, who seems to know how good this role is, embraces it and runs with it.
The opening of the film is the only part that doesn’t focus on Braga. It’s a prologue set in 1980, where Clara, still recovering from breast cancer, attends a party for her Aunt – Tia Lucia (Thaia Perez). If at first, it seems like a typical party for an aging family member at first, Mendonça Filho gradually deepens it. Clara’s children tell the story of Tia Lucia’s life – a political activist, a thinker, and much else – she notices a piece of furniture, and flashes back to an erotic episode of her past. Tia Lucia is a fascinating, older woman with a story of her own to tell. Clara is one as well.
Aquarius is at its best when it doesn’t force Clara into the plot. Yes, the fight with the real estate developer provides the plot of the film, and gives the film its satisfying climax – even if it that ending sequence is louder than the rest of the film, it’s hard not to feel inspired by Clara sticking it to her tormenters. Yet, I also couldn’t help but wonder why Clara is so committed to staying put. The developers are offering her more than market value for her apartment. She is comfortable, and could move somewhere else. Even her kids don’t seem to quite understand – even if they support her. She has her records, her giant Barry Lyndon movie-poster, and dammit, she ain’t leaving.
The film is better when it focuses on Clara herself – her life and her feelings. She has an active social life with friends – but is sexually frustrated. Everyone else she knows has boyfriends, but despite being a widow for 17 years, she doesn’t. The film refreshingly treats her as sexual being – with needs and desires, and even more refreshingly, as someone desirable herself.
I liked much of Aquarius, and yet other than Braga’s performance, I must admit I wasn’t wholly won over by it. It seems like a film that tries to impose a structure and a story on a character who would be better off without it. I’ve seen some suggest that the film – and Clara’s struggle – is a metaphor for Brazil itself – and perhaps that is true, but for someone outside of Brazil, and not as familiar with the country as perhaps I should be, any of those references went over my head. Still, the film is an excellent character study, and contains a great performance by Sonia Braga. The rest of the movie cannot live up to her performance - and the film cannot camper to Mendonça Filho’s excellent debut, but it’s a solid film nonetheless.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Movie Review: Cameraperson

Directed by: Kirsten Johnson. 
Cameraperson is an odd documentary. It is directed by Kristen Johnson, who has worked as a cinematographer on documentaries for well over a decade now – working with directors like Laura Poitras, Michael Moore, Kirby Dick among many others. Cameraperson could be described as being a movie of outtakes of those documentaries – presented with context, identified only by the location in which they were shot, not the films the footage was shot for. Sometimes it’s very obvious – anyone can pick out shots from Fahrenheit 9/11 for example, with Moore himself in the shot – and sometimes you’d be hard pressed to figure it out, even if you know the documentary it was shot for. Johnson has described the film as a visual memoir – and there is footage that she shot of her own children, her father, and her mother, with Alzheimer’s – which do provide some sort of context for the movie, and provide a degree of structure. Other sequences, I have no clue why Johnson felt the need to include the shot. The film has become one of the critically acclaimed docs of 2016, and while I don’t love the film that much, it is a fascinating film in its own right.
One of the aspects of Cameraperson I enjoyed the most are the genuine moments of surprise that come out – that we can hear Johnson behind the camera either delighted or horrified, or just surprised by what happens in front of her camera. We’re used to that from amateurs shooting YouTube videos, but it’s striking when it happens in professional work – work that has been perfectly framed, and then something unexpected happens. It can be amusing when it’s something like a lightning strike she had no idea was going to happen – or when she sneezes. It can be horrifying, when she sees something dangerous a kid is doing in front of camera (she does not, telling, stop it). Another part of this, is that Johnson certainly doesn’t hide how much of what makes it into documentaries is staged – not in a way that is trying to fool the audience, or impart untrue information – but simply for the sake of the shot itself. We see her clean the camera lens for instance, or adjust objects in the room to make the shot more balances, or removing things she doesn’t like the look of. Documentaries are often criticized for having the same, boring visual look – what Cameraperson shows is how much thought goes into the visual look of at least certain films. As a behind the scenes look at what goes into making a documentary, Cameraperson is fascinating.
I didn’t love everything about it. There are times when I had no idea why Johnson felts the need to include certain clips – and it takes probably a good thirty minutes to get into the rhythm of the film. Gradually, you do start to see what Johnson is up to – it started to come together for me when she started to include family of her own family, which ends up providing at some reason why the rest of the clips are included – and make them seem more personal and painful.
Cameraperson has no narration – it provides no hand holding for the audience, and doesn’t walk you through what to make of it. I appreciate this style – even while at the same time, I think a little hand holding may have been helpful. I’m usually not a fan of montage docs – not much anyway, as they often feel rudderless, structureless and unfocused. Cameraperson drifts at times, and repeats itself. It doesn’t strike me as the masterpiece others seem to see. But, for those interested in documentary films – how they’re made, and the ethics behind them – it’s still a must see, even if I have to admit it’s not really a film for me.