She Uses Tangerine [Updated]

Tangerine - poster

Yes, that’s a play on the Flaming Lips.

Tangerine is the most talked-about indie of the year, and for good reason.  It splashes vibrant, ruddy, glowing color all over the gritty urban streetscape of Hollywood.  Then, as night falls on Christmas Eve, that patina is washed away, leaving only the ugly naked truth — and a few more laughs.

I’m going to draw an unlikely comparison to Boyhood, because movies are ultimately about the story.  And the story of Tangerine wasn’t bad, but neither was it great.  The same story with more bland, milquetoast characters would probably get a thumbs down — not just from me but most critics.  The audacious characters of Tangerine drive the narrative.

Tangerine - text blockYou can talk about how different, and how novel, a movie is — and I loved the novelty of Tangerine — but ultimately the story must be there.  So probably the best comparison of all: Beasts of the Southern Wild.  It’s like this whole new world you’ve never seen before.  This is what movies are supposed to do!  So how can you not be over the moon?  How can you not be wildly enthusiastic with your recommendation?  Because story matters.

Every once in a while I wish that some truly profound David Lynch – Inland Empire moment might burst forth to offer true, glowing transcendence — but it was not to be.  Still though, there is something endearing about Tangerine.  Like Beasts of the Southern Wild, my opinion has been raised upon reflection.  But also like Beasts, a more developed story would launch Tangerine into the stratosphere.  7/10

Update: A note I forgot to include: the film was shot almost entirely with three iPhones.  Inspiration to low-budget filmmakers everywhere.

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Can I Stream It? Maybe, Maybe Not

Before watching eXistenZ (previous post), I checked my Can I Stream It? app to see if I could watch it with my Netflix subscription.  It told me I could, but it also falsely told me that I could not see it through the Apple/iTunes movie service.

Canistream.it had previously erred regarding two great movies, The Wrestler and Crazy Heart.  In my post on those films, I called this omission an egregious mistake, and said that I’d follow up.  Well consider this the follow-up: three strikes and you’re out.  Since Canistream.it has proven unreliable, I am removing it from my list of links in the sidebar.  I think, however, that it still works for Netflix — but the selection of movies on Netflix is highly constrained.

It would be a great convenience if Canistream.it or a like service (I know of none other) could be relied upon.  I will still check it now and then; if its accuracy is shown to improve I’ll post another update.  For now, the answer to “Can I stream it?” is: Who knows?

Can I Stream It - graphic

Honey ah sugar sugar

Searching for Sugar Man is one of the most extraordinary films I have ever seen.  Yes, it is a documentary.

It had been lingering in my queue for a while, but winning the Oscar the night before put it back in the forefront of my mind.  I had been reluctant to watch this movie because 60 Minutes ran a piece on it, so I felt I knew the story to the extent I did not need to see the movie.  Boy was I wrong.

Beautifully put together and pretty much perfect in every way, I’m not sure how Sugar Man could have been any better.  I think it has an absolute timeless quality which may allow it to live on as one of the great films of all time.  It expresses the beauty of life in a magical two-fold way: first, that this story happened in the first place, and then that it took another 14 years after the mystery was solved for the movie to be produced.  There are great true stories out there, but having them delivered as a motion picture is another thing altogether.SugarMan

The obvious comparison here is with Buena Vista Social Club (1999), where by contrast that film was released immediately upon the salient revelations.  With Sugar Man, it took some time for the story to resonate with the right filmmaker.  And this filmmaker had to find his own way to tell the story, which may have meant playing a little loose with the facts in a spot or two (SPOILER ALERT!  look at the Wikipedia page for more on this, but only if you have already seen the movie).  But I don’t think the overall power of the movie is diminished.  Besides, I have to judge a film based on the film alone and how I felt watching it, not what I found out afterwards doing research.

Again comparing with Buena Vista Social Club.  That is an extraordinary and beautiful tale as well.  However, I think in that case the album is a much more remarkable phenomenon than the movie.  Not true with Sugar Man.  Rather, this movie can better be thought of as documentary equivalent to Shine (1996): the triumph of long-suppressed, passionate artistic talent.  Triumph of the human spirit when all might have just as easily been lost, depicted in full glory.

* * *

I was so touched by Sugar Man that I thought it might be the best movie of last year.  Yes, even better than Django Unchained.  But it’s a documentary.  So I got into a philosophical question of what difference does that make.  A film should be judged only by the final product in front of you and the heights of emotion it can stir, not categories like documentary, drama, comedy etc.  But in this case I think I will defer to custom and keep documentaries is a separate category.

Besides, I can’t fairly place Sugar Man on my Best of 2012 list since I did not see it theatrically.  Now, though I think a movie should be judged purely by what it presents, a 10 rating — a masterpiece — carries with it a sense of timelessness; it is a classic gem untarnished by scrutiny.  And as a documentary draws strength from the true story it depicts, it must also be liable for any deviation from a full accounting of that truth.   As such I’m giving Searching for Sugar Man a 9/10, missing a 10 rating by a hair.  Very highly recommended; this movie restores faith in humankind.  Try to see it before you find out too much from other sources: the less you know about the story, the more you’ll get from Sugar Man.

* * *

Production Notes: I’ve got to get my iPhone plug in — iPhone app 8mm Vintage Camera was used to create some of the effects in this movie.  The Thin Blue Line (1988) was the first movie in my mind to showcase how compelling a documentary could be, and Sugar Man carries forth that tradition of outstanding production values.  It’s important to produce documentaries on par with feature film standards so as to optimize the impact of the story.

Can I Stream It?

TUAW:

Can I Stream It? Is a free universal app that lets you see when movies you are interested in are available for streaming. The app checks several sources, including iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, Crackle, Blockbuster and Xfinity. The company says it will be continually adding new services.

CANiStreamIt

This looks like a great new service, and long overdue.  As it stands, I usually browse around movies that are available on my Apple TV/iTunes service, which is pay-per-view and limited by a draconian 24-hour viewing period.  Once I decide to watch a movie, I then switch over to see if it’s available on Netflix, which does not cost anything other than the $8/mo. that I am paying for that service.  Browsing on the iTunes side is much nicer than Netflix since the Netflix selection is pathetic by comparison, the Netflix interface is not as nice, and Netflix on Apple TV does not offer previews, for what reason nobody knows — I asked a Netflix lackey once and he was clueless as to why this is.

To perform searches I piddle around with the basic remote to key in my search term one letter at a time.  This whole process is a pain in the rear.  To top it off, movies that have been sitting in my iTunes wish list (I wish Apple would call it a “queue” since that’s what it is) will occasionally disappear — I would really like to watch Pineapple Express, for instance, but now it seems my only choice is to purchase it, which I refuse to do.

This app is available for iPhone and the various Android & Windows phone imitators.  And you don’t even need an app: they have a website, www.canistream.it!  What a bonus!  Clever how they’ve incorporated the Italian domain in their URL.

This should really make it easier to see what movies are available for viewing.

Quvenzhané Wallis on Rock Center

220px-Beats-of-the-southern-wild-movie-posterQuvenzhané Wallis, the youngest actress ever nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, and costar Dwight Henry from Beasts of the Southern Wild, to which I have warmed a bit since first seeing it [prior post], are interviewed on last night’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.  I highly recommend watching the entire program; also included are very interesting segments on Ron Popeil and phone-powered smart medical technology.