Honeyland… far, far away

Ultimately, as much as I may analyze a movie and deconstruct its various elements, the numerical evaluation I reach is achieved by nothing more than how it hits me on an emotional level. It’s a gut-reaction meter to how I felt walking out of the movie theater and driving home. With Honeyland, I walked out feeling it’s a solid 7, good but somehow not great.

Later that evening, my thoughts on the film prevented me from sleeping. I thought about how extraordinary it was to have this documentary play like a nondocumentary. That a narrative without narration could be so convincing. I had read somewhere before seeing Honeyland that it was a documentary, but other than being very authentic, it plays like a normal feature film.  It’s remarkable how all the plot elements were so perfectly captured without actors and a storyboard.  Or at least I assume it was all real and not produced ‘reality TV’ style. So refreshing compared to the last documentary I saw, the dismal Marianne & Leonard.

EXTRAORDINARY NARRATIVE WITHOUT NARRATION

Whenever a film keeps me tossing and turning at night, its number goes up the next morning.

Now a big negative that I’m sure no one else cares about: No beginning titles whatsoever is more than irksome.  It’s like you’re trying to insult my intelligence. Do you think I don’t know the title of the movie? That it’s some great revelation at the end when you bestow the title upon us, the humble moviegoers? Just put the title up front, a-hole!

Apologize for losing it there a moment.  One more thing: there’s a sense the film takes place in a far-flung, western-Asian place like Georgia, or Uzbekistan, or Afghanistan — but no.  This is Europe.  It turns out the decidedly Asian language is Turkish — though I did not recognize it as such.  But the Asian part I got right. Throwing me off too was the equally Asian vastness of the landscape, which in fact belongs to Europe. I can safely aver that this is the first, and most likely last film I have ever seen made in North Macedonia. I didn’t even know there was a country called North Macedonia. And I definitely learned a thing or two about bees.

8/10

Comparison Notes: The Good Earth, Koyaanisqatsi

The new Leonard Cohen documentary…

…is a disaster.

For those unfamiliar with Leonard Cohen, it fails, seemingly making the assumption that you are familiar to some degree with his life’s work.

For those who are familiar — like me, the substance and storytelling contained within Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is abysmal.  A real letdown for fans of Cohen. Admittedly, the filmmaker takes his own, different tack, focusing on a key relationship of Cohen — but he failed at really conveying that too.

There are a couple nice little biographical tidbits, like a dry shave to reinvigorate a stage performance.  But these show that the filmmaker is not intending Words of Love to be some sort of un-biography. There’s a very strong sense that there was a lot more biography left out, or i.e. never found by the filmmaker. That there’s a lot more to Leonard Cohen’s life, big and small, that we never get to see.

Kate McKinnon’s performance of “Hallelujah” right after the election, and right after his death, was more profound and substantial than this entire movie. One of the most incredible things ever done on SNL, a deeply emotional and powerful tribute to Leonard Cohen while simultaneously mourning the death of a nation that happened on that horrible Tuesday night.

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Speaking of music.  Where’s the music for Christ’s sake? I mean, you’re handed that on a tee. There were snips here and there of Cohen on stage, as if to say, ‘by the way, here’s Leonard Cohen doing what he does best, doing what made him famous, the only reason we’re now making a documentary.’  But there was way too little of it — so disappointing. It’s not like there are a hundred other Leonard Cohen films out there. Swap out about half the interview time for music and this thing would have been much improved.

Sometimes I get frustrated or even angry at filmmakers screwing up the goose that laid the golden egg. I’m in no way angry here, because I recognize it as pure incompetence. It shows that making a documentary is no gimme. It’s not that easy. You have to know what you’re doing.

I mean generally, if you have strong content for a documentary, often you just let that stand on its own. So maybe it is easy. This filmmaker seemingly did everything he could to block the extraordinary work of Leonard Cohen. The couple aforementioned tidbits raise this one to 3/10.

Comparison Notes: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Citizenfour, Room 237, Rocketman, Love & Mercy, Searching for Sugar Man, Walk the Line

VOD Log: Three Identical Strangers

Reenactments in documentary film need to be done carefully without looking like a cheesy TV production — or omitted altogether.  Errol Morris set a standard for the former in The Thin Blue Line, and Ken Burns for the latter.  Three Identical Strangers misses the mark and would better have left them out.

Which points to the weakness in the film — I think better documentarians might have presented the material more poignantly.  Still, the content here is powerful and profound.  7/10; sandwich between Crazy Rich Asians and Thoroughbreds on the 2018 List.

Comparison Notes (all recommended and better): The aforementioned Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer, The Civil War, Searching for Sugar Man

Innocence Lost: Making a Murderer Part 2

FOR FANS OF TRUE CRIME, THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote: “Making a Murderer on Netflix is a magnificently compelling, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking series.”  Part 2, released in October last year, doubles down on being among the most riveting television ever aired.  And where Part 1 might have been shortened by a couple episodes, that is not at all the case in Part 2 — every minute is used to its full value.  For fans of true crime, this is as good as it gets.

SPOILER ALERT! — Referring back to my previous spoiler comments, I will add that the Avery case, in the absence of anything to contradict the evidence raised by Kathleen Zellner —  is even more solidly, and clearly, on the side of his innocence.  Zellner is in a different league than the original defense; we will see where she can take it.  Does this mean a Part 3 is in the offing?

[End of Spoilers]

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So I never was able to produce a TV 2018 part 2 post as intended.  Those items, including Roseanne without Roseanne, are hereby tabled for a future post.

Film Brief: Free Solo

There’s no margin for error.  Imagine an Olympic-gold-medal-level athletic achievement that if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re going to die.

That’s pretty much what free soloing El Cap is like.  You have to do it perfectly.

At some point I will finally publish my Ratings Explained post.  Case in point is Free Solo: why is it less than a 9/10?  It’s completely gripping and a profound examination of life.  Answer: there are obvious comparisons to The Walk.  Free Solo is probably the best of the year so far, but I didn’t have that feeling of unbridled joy that The Walk gave me.  9/10 is a high bar — almost as high as El Capitan.

So, for now, Free Solo stands tall at the high end of 8/10.

Comparison Notes: Meru, Everest, The Walk

Docu-Log: The Act of Killing

Within 5-10 minutes of the beginning of this film, I knew what it was about and wondered where do we go from here? The answer is not very far.  Critics were besides themselves with this one; me, I like good movies.

I found the presentation ‘cute’ — and not in a good way.  A straightforward accounting of events would have been much better.  4/10

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Comparison Notes:  The infinitely better Mr. Death