Watermark

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Release: Friday, April 4, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

I’ve never had to pee so bad in a movie in all of my natural life. . . .

Not that I would miss much if I were to step out to find the bathroom. With hindsight, I could even take my time in my quest, perhaps stopping in to say hey to some people in an adjacent theater. I could mingle with other theatergoers, or distract and annoy them just for a few minutes — just enough time to allow me to forget what I myself had come to see.

This is the kind of light fare where I could be out goofing around like this for a solid 20 minutes and then be able to get right back to my seat, refocus, and get back into it without feeling the slightest bit confused or disoriented. I don’t want to call the subject matter on display trivial; it’s certainly anything but that. However, what documentaries lack — environmental documentaries, especially — in being able to take dramatic license, they tend to make up for with a strong human element, a perspective that engages from the get-go. It usually comes packaged in the form of interviews, a spoken narrative, a focus on groups of people changing over time, or any combination of all the above.

The problem with Watermark is that it lacks this human element. It quite literally and almost exclusively features dramatized shots of water captured in its many shapes, forms and quantities, with only but a few of these moments actually involving human interaction. The set-up makes for a pretty picture, but an emotionless story. In fact, the extensive opening shot, an admittedly powerful wide shot of a massive dam release in China, is a microcosm for the emotional journey about to be undertaken. If this one scene doesn’t catch interest, it’s likely that most of what comes next won’t, either. The question is posed — “how do we shape water, and how does water shape us?” — and this film from Jennifer Baichwal attempts to set out answering this by juxtaposing shots of bodies of water with mankind’s interaction with it. Too bad man doesn’t factor in more.

We are firstly introduced to a Mexican woman living near the Colorado River Delta, a harsh crop of land so dry it literally makes one regret the choice to buy popcorn (whoever buys popcorn for documentaries ought to be slapped, anyway); cracking slabs of brown plate-like dirt bemoan the likely many, many years of water’s absence. This scene is a beautiful contrast to the film’s deafening roar of an opening. In fact, there’s not a lot to disagree with relative to the film’s construction or the way it looks. Watermark is quite competent in both of those regards. But the face time we get with conflicted individuals such as the aforementioned woman feels all too brief and fleeting.

Beyond the arid delta plains, we travel far and wide to many a foreign and exotic location where relationships between humans and water are in varying degrees strained. Highlights include the windswept, almost alien world that is the Greenland Ice Sheet, where scientists are drilling kilometers deep into the ice to extract measurements. (Ice is really, really cool, by the way. I think ice is nice.) From there we visit India, and stop in during the annual Kumbh Mela bath in the Ganges River — a mass gathering of some 30 million people during which souls are cleansed and purified in the waters; we also visit one of the most massive structures on Earth — the Xiluodu Dam, a whopping 937-foot-tall arch dam, one piece in a larger project impacting the Jinsha River.

Watermark leads us away from these tense battlegrounds — where usually man wins and water loses — by trotting us out to the isolated regions of the Canadian Rocky watershed, a beautiful crop of North America where it’s feasible to go days without crossing another human being. Here, water is sparkling and looks drinkable. If you haven’t been on the verge of wetting yourself by now, this positively drool-worthy sequence probably will take care of you. Okay, so maybe it’s a lie that there’s no drama involved here. The drama stems from whether or not you can make it through this in one sitting. Whether you can clench those knees together for well over half an hour. Whether you can hold it. . . . .hold it. . .

. . . hold it. . .

You’ll have to forgive me for hardly taking a thing seriously at this point; Watermark disappointingly amounts to little more than a Discovery Channel special, and something seemingly more appropriately filed in the scientific record than packaged as a theatrical release. I blame my lack of focus on keeping things serious here because the film likewise did not seem enthused on talking about people; it seemed more interested in letting water do all of its talking. It wanted to dismiss me, so I feel compelled to dismiss it.

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2-5Recommendation: Jennifer Baichwal’s story and Edward Burtynsky’s cinematography combine to form a nature documentary that’s guilty of talking to itself and failing to leave an emotional impact. Its not intended to be a sensational movie nor is it meant to suggest that its time to panic about our lack of conservation of water just yet (though for some places it might be that time), and yet it’s difficult to believe that feeling as though you’re waking up from a nap come the end credits is the desired effect. It takes more than a lot of pretty pictures to tell a strong story.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 92 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

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I love the TBT of this week. Few contemporary flicks seem to really be able to pull off the right amount of raunchiness and sentimentality. Most end up being too much of one or the other, which isn’t to dismiss them as ‘bad’ films, per se, but it just seems a large number of films in the rom-com genre favor sensation over sensibility. In other words, rom-coms typically are forgettable experiences. But when these kinds of films err on the side of being more ‘sensible’ — in terms of actually caring about the plights of their characters and finding a satisfactory conclusion for him/her/them — an entirely new experience emerges and we get movies that make us think twice about things.

Today’s food for thought: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

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Release: April 18, 2008

[DVD]

Poor Peter. He’s just been dumped by his Red Carpet-worthy girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) — the star of a raunchy and ridiculous murder-mystery T.V. series, Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. At first, Peter (Jason Segel) shows some sense of emotional fortitude when he first hears the news from her when he claims he wants to hear what her reasons are and what he can do to make her stay. Then he becomes naked and everything falls to pieces when he learns of the real reason — “the other guy” reason — and thus, the opening shot of the film.

Segel goes from starring in hit T.V. shows to writing his first (hit) film with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a romantic comedy that tells of a man who’s just been heartbroken and doesn’t see any point in trying to date again anytime soon. . . that is, until the next amazing girl (Mila Kunis) walks into his life and changes his outlook for the better, forever.

In his devastated state, Peter strikes out to find happiness (if it exists) elsewhere. After embarrassing himself at a club one night, he finally goes to Hawaii to shake off the gloominess, and hey — what are the odds! Sarah is vacationing on the same island with her new boy-toy. He immediately wants to leave but then realizes that would make it seem like he’s running away from her, so stubbornly he decides to stay put even when he catches her fooling around with the other guy more than a few times. Just when things seem to be as depressing as they’ve ever been, Peter slowly starts to make friends with some of the locals, including the gorgeous woman who works the front desk at the hotel in which he’s staying. His misery has become so public that she offers him the most expensive suite in the building, a room typically reserved for “people like Celine Dion and Oprah,” and says that he can stay there so long as he cleans up after himself. Clearly it is a gesture out of pity. Peter awkwardly obliges.

However, the longer he stays around the island, the more he finds himself truly connecting with this new girl, Rachael (Mila Kunis), and it’s not long before he finds himself falling for her. She’s cautious about Peter’s forthcoming interest since her past is not exactly free from complications, despite the fact that she lives on the incredible Hawaiian beachfront. Regardless of circumstances — in fact, part of the intrigue here is that maybe it’s in spite of them — the two form a friendship that ends up going much deeper and is one that’s genuinely romantic and believable. There’s a great chemistry between the two actors that should and could afford them more opportunities to work on other projects together in the future.

Perfectly satisfying on most levels, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is both sweet and painfully funny, in equal doses. It has a host of funny supporting roles, the most memorable of which belongs to Russell Brand, as he introduces a character which would end up spanning a couple of films (Get Him To The Greek being the other). His loose-cannon, sex-obsessed and incredibly egotistical Aldous Snow is incidentally the one Miss Marshall cheated on Peter with. Jack McBrayer plays a man unsure of his recent decision to get married; his wife (Maria Thayer), however, is obsessed with him and the two form a highly uncomfortable pair that is both hilarious and somewhat disturbing to watch. They represent something of an anomaly when it comes to thinking how newlyweds might behave on honeymoon. . . in Hawaii. . .

Predictable as it may be, the film is successful in rising above the deep, trope-filled waters of the rom-com genre by providing a sharp, witty script, affable characters in Peter and Rachael, and gorgeous settings. That, and a very strange, albeit memorable, ending. For a first-time writer cred, Segel’s name could be attached to much, much worse. This movie, and later his writing of The Muppets, seem to be the promising beginnings of a career in film writing for the man as well.

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3-5Recommendation: For those who haven’t already checked this out, it’s practically a must-see (if you are into the romantic-comedy, that is. . . this likely won’t change your mind if you’re firmly opposed). Segel and Kunis offer great laughs and some heartwarming moments together, and the supporting cast is very capable as well. One of 2008’s best comedies.

Rated: R

Running Time: 118 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Dark Side of the Lens

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Release: Summer 2010

[Vimeo]

Let’s take a different approach and review a short film. This week I got forwarded a link to this masterfully filmed surfing docudrama off the coast of Ireland. TO SEE FULL FILM, CLICK THE LINK IN THE ‘RECOMMENDATION’ SECTION!!

“I never want to take this for granted. So I try to keep my motivations simple, real, positive. If I only scrape out a living, at least it’s a living worth scraping. If there’s no future in it, at least it’s a present worth remembering.”

This six-minute film is more motivating than I can even describe. With lines like that, it’s pretty clear I guess. But beyond its praise and affirmation amongst the many critics and ratings boards, popular opinion has to be that Dark Side of the Lens is a stunning masterpiece that will lift your spirit higher and — as one of my friends said, and with which I would most definitely agree — get you as motivated to wash dishes as this guy is to surf heavy, cold waves.

And yes, my kitchen is now spotless. Not really, but that’s a good game plan for tomorrow. That, and a few more viewings of this short film. Considering its brevity, this monologue takes you miles away from your couch, your desk or wherever you may be perched, attached to each word of the film and sweeps you into waters colder than ice.

We are swimming in northern waters, after all.

When you take the serenity of the Irish coast — what, with the violence of foaming crests battling it out with razor-sharp rock beaches and cliff lines cut with arches that look like doorways to Heaven — and balance it with that of the maturely written script, you’re in the process of polishing off a rather rare gem.

Directed and written by Mickey Smith, Dark Side of the Lens is afforded a way around the trap that unfortunately many a short film fall into (due mostly to dismissive,  outrageous claims critical or otherwise): being dubbed apotheosis; overly showy and glorifying the subject to some unnecessary degree. In some ways, like poetry is often cast aside with some level of indignation because the majority of readers can’t interpret metaphor, the short-film format invites its own stigmas, as it is technically a contrivance of full-length features. Here’s one, though, that works well with its time restriction. Extremely well.

Let Dark Side be as provocative or ambiguous as you want it to be for you; take the journey as you see it. Smith lives on the edge, for sure. But its not what he’s doing that really matters, but how he’s doing it and how he got to do it in the beginning.

“I wanna see wave-riding documented the way I see it in my head, and the way I feel it in the sea. It’s a strange set of skills to begin to acquire. It’s only achievable through time spent riding waves.”

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4-5Recommendation: Please see it. Even if you do not surf, or don’t even like it. You’ll lose yourself in this…..  Dark Side of the Lens on Vimeo.

Running Time: 6 mins. 15 secs.

Top Awards: 

Best Cinematography (Rhode Island Int’l Film Festival ’11);
Best Short Film (Waimea Ocean Film Festival);
Best International Short (Canadian Surf Film Festival);
Digital Short of the Year (Surfer Poll);
Grand Prize (Chamonix Film Festival ’11)

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.thisisnotaplace.wordpress.com