TIFF 2013 – Philosophical Zombies: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s REAL

real

Sometimes, when it comes to taking a hard look at foreign language films, you have to keep a little perspective – especially if you don’t speak the native language the film is presented in. Maybe that bad dialogue you think you’re hearing / reading is actually just a poor subtitle translation. Maybe that odd storytelling device you can’t quite put your finger on is some cultural nuance that you are failing to grasp. (One of the most famous of these is Bong Joon-ho’s THE HOST, whose atypical and abrupt tonal shifts are not something commonly found in the West.)

Unfortunately, none of that is the case with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s REAL. The dialogue really is that bad. The exposition really is that ham-fisted and painfully cliché. And no, the sluggish pacing and tired story are not something that’s simply been lost in translation. All of these things are just part of the film, and they ruin a seemingly promising movie. Starring Takeru Satô and Haruka Ayase as lovers, the film follows Koichi (Satô) as he uses an experimental technique to enter the consciousness of his comatose girlfriend, Atsumi (Ayase). The plan is to try and lure her back to reality. As expected, things go horribly awry when reality and dream begin to intermingle.

REAL commits several cardinal sins of moviemaking. First, it’s boring. This is maybe the most important sin, because it prevents anything that happens later in the film from having any weight. The pacing can be occasionally excruciating through most of the film’s first half (as well as parts of the second) as we follow Koichi into Atsumi’s mind then back out again. This happens over and over with no clear point or purpose; Koichi doesn’t seem to have any clear idea what he’s supposed to do when he’s with her, and he wanders aimlessly on hunches when he’s not. More distressing is the fact that absolutely nothing is made of the fact that this is the first time he’s “spoken” to her in over a year – following her suicide attempt and subsequent comatose state, Koichi spends a year by her bedside. But when he finally gets a chance to “talk to” the love of his life – albeit only by interacting with her subconscious – he doesn’t seem surprised, or even care that much. No hug. No emotional toll. No sense that these two actually care about each other in any way, shape or form. So why should we care about them, or their struggle? We don’t, and the sluggish pacing had me glancing at my watch fifteen minutes into the film.

Which brings us to our second sin: REAL is painfully predictable. You don’t have to be a genre-whiz in this day and age to know how unclear-reality films work (even your uncool uncle has seen INCEPTION), so if you’re planning on taking one on, you better have some seriously surprising tricks up your sleeve. And while Kurosawa certainly has a stuffed sleeve or two, nothing that comes out of it is worth a damn because we’ve seen it all precisely one hundred times before. It takes no more than fifteen minutes of watching (ten or less, if you’re astute) to guess nearly every move the director has to make. So when the truth begins to unravel, it’s not surprising, or thought-provoking, or even entertaining – it just sits there like dead air, receiving zero reaction. High-concept stories of this type need to stay two steps ahead of their audience, and REAL can’t even keep pace with them.

And when Kurosawa finally starts to throw some real curveballs in the final act of the film, he undercuts it all with the third and final sin: the movie is just plain dumb. A surprising (but not particularly well-earned) eleventh-hour development about a childhood friend plays fairly well at first. And had Kurosawa chosen to end the film with that revelation, it would have certainly been stronger for it. But he doesn’t. He keeps going. And going. And going. Once he finally stops, he’s robbed his one promising idea of all its worth by turning the climax into a bizarre, unappealing and unimpressive creature flick.

The film is filled with moments like this. The first major plot twist occurs a little over halfway through the movie, and though it’s one of the most predictable developments in recent memory, it could be forgiven if the story which resulted from it was satisfying. But it’s not. Our realization over what actually caused our heroes’ coma is so dumb, so painfully counterproductive to everything that has come before and everything that will come after, that it’s no wonder there were audible snickers and laughs (at the film, mind you) during the screening.

Granted, Kurosawa has some interesting visual ideas, and there’s one particular moment of a melting cityscape that’s quite lovely. But beyond that, there is absolutely nothing worth recommending about this film. It’s dumb, unsatisfying, generic and generally insulting to its audience. Avoid it.

[D-]

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – Someone Special: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s DON JON

don-jon

DON JON has an perfectly compelling premise: a pair of characters attempt to start a relationship, both of whom have been shaped by the conflicting media they’ve consumed. One is a machismo archetype, addicted to pornography (Jon, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt); the other is the ideal woman (Barbara, Scarlett Johansson), who expects her man to “be a man” – which means doing everything she asks of him. Anything less would be to spit in the face of romanticism, to fail to meet the bar that her idealized dreams (fuelled by Anne Hathaway-Channing Tatum Hollywood blockbusters) have jammed into her head. Add it up, and you’ve got the makings of a compelling dramedy. So why doesn’t the film work better?

As child-actor-turned-Hollywood-superstar Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a writer / director, DON JON shows promise. Ultimately, however, he also has some room to improve and mature behind the camera. His premise is compelling, but it’s undercut by heavy-handedness, unnecessary hyper-stylization and an overall need to drive home a message. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film; it’s quite funny, well-acted and has some really great moments. But its flaws are harmful to the overall product and reveal that maybe Gordon-Levitt isn’t quite there yet as a storyteller.

Many of the parallels between Jon’s addiction and Barbara’s love of cheesy movies are terrific. Her beliefs about romance are as warped and ill-conceived as his are, and Gordon-Levitt does a great job laying the groundwork between them: romance semiotics bleed off the screen and into Jon and Barbara’s relationship, from the grand musical cues when they kiss to the way he changes everything about himself “for her”. But when the subtext of that parallel becomes straight text, it also becomes less interesting. If Jon recognizes these parallels but she doesn’t, even when she’s called out on them, it makes both characters less interesting – Barbara because she comes across as a stubborn bitch (admittedly, intentionally so), and Jon because his realization garners her no pity in his eyes. Had his revelation been a more last-minute realization, it might have better impacted their final moments together.

Also troublesome is the dynamic between Jon and Esther (Julianne Moore), which feels unearned. Worse still, it evolves into something which had stronger emotional potential for the climax than was actually depicted on screen. Though the place that their relationship winds up rings completely true from a human perspective and serves Jon’s story well, it doesn’t really seem to deserve to get there. It also ends in a very bizarre place – somewhere neither here or there. Jon acknowledges his progress, but also acknowledges the fleetingness of it all; something which is fine in of itself, had the story taken the time to delve into what that conflict means to him as a person. But it doesn’t. It seems to want to have it both ways, so neither really works.

Even more bizarrely, the film totally wastes Brie Larson, who utters a single line of dialogue in the entire film. Granted, it is a pointed, meaningful line on which the entire final act hinges, but it’s still something that could have been handled by just about anybody. The rest of the cast is awesome (especially Tony Danza as Jon’s father), and everybody gets a chance at a laugh; it just would have been nice to see a bit more done with the talented Larson.

But overall, the film has a lot of good going for it. It is often laugh-out-loud funny, it’s sexy and clever, and Gordon-Levitt proves that he can do a good job behind the camera if only he can polish up his screenwriting a bit first.

[B-]

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – What is to Give Light, Must Endure Burning: Frank Pavich’s JODOROWSKY’S DUNE

DUNE-HEADLINE

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE is so much more than a documentary about the cult filmmaker’s infamously ambitious attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s novel. It’s about more than the pitfalls of the Hollywood system, or about its tendency towards stifling creativity. It’s about what it means to put your heart and soul into a piece of art, only to have it taken away from you and never properly realized. As Richard Stanley – one of the guest filmmakers featured in the film – describes it, it is the inability to exorcise a project which you’ve allowed to live under your skin for so long.

And that’s really what is at the core of Pavich’s exploration of the failed project: this lack of closure and release. Though the film is packed full of amazing interviews, images and ideas from the project, the entire affair is overshadowed by the fact that all of this work, all this passion, was eventually all for naught. Sure, it’s fun to hear Jodorowsky wax nostalgic about the film (some of his stories are downright hilarious), but it’s hard to forget that the intensity and depth of the project will eventually amount to nothing. It definitely lends a more sinister and saddening subtext to the film.

But it also happens to be what gives the film its emotional weight. Any artist who has ever had a project – one which they’d invested so much of themselves into – fall apart knows the feeling: that crippling disappointment, that knowledge that this thing you wanted more than anything to bring into the world will probably never see the light of day. It’s a heavy burden for some, though maybe not for others – some artists may find that they are simply able to move onto the next project without any emotional devastation. Jodorowsky is not one of these people, and it’s evident over the course of the film that he still has deep, emotional ties to DUNE.

Pavich’s documentary is blanketed with this feeling of disappointment, and even in spite of all the fun, all the wonder, all the general good vibes, there is still a longing underneath it all. So when the titular filmmaker finally explodes at the end of the film, when he finally lets out his anger and his rage at the almighty dollar for killing his dream, it’s a deeply satisfying moment.

Jodorowsky makes for a wonderful subject, and Pavich and co. do a terrific job of capturing the filmmaker’s humanity, his idiosyncrasies and his joyful nature. Though they briefly contextualize his career, they wisely devote the bulk of the film to the titular project; it is, after all, a deeply compelling “what-if” film that could have had serious ramifications for the genre and Hollywood as a whole. It includes interviews with contemporary filmmakers (like the aforementioned Stanley, as well as Nicolas Winding Refn), critics (Drew McWeeny and Devin Faraci) and several of the artists involved (H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux, Chris Foss, Amanda Lear and Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontis), painting a vivid picture of what the film meant at the time of its inception, as well as in the many decades since.

Giving unprecedented access to the project’s storyboards, concept art, script decisions, casting stories and more, this is the definitive resource for fans of the filmmaker, the franchise and for cinema historians as a whole.

[B+]

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – He’s Got a Lot of Scars, But All the Others Are Dead: David Gordon Green’s JOE

first-look-nicolas-cage-tye-sheridan-in-joe-david-gordon-green

David Gordon Green is having one hell of a year. Once known for his indie dramas, the versatile actor was eventually snatched up by Hollywood when he developed a relationship with what can now be affectionately referred to as the THIS IS THE END crowd: Danny McBride, James Franco, Jonah Hill and the like. For the last five or so years, he’s been hard at work directing films like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, YOUR HIGHNESS and an assortment of episodes for EASTBOUND & DOWN.

But over the past few months, Green has returned to his roots with a pair of exceptional – and exceptionally quiet – films set in his native Texas. The first, PRINCE AVALANCHE, was a delightfully low-key buddy-comedy starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. Now, he follows that picture up with the perfect companion piece: JOE, starring Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan. Both films take place in the rural south, and offer complimentary perspectives on contemporary masculinity and heteronormativity, even as they come at them from opposing sides.

In PRINCE AVALANCHE, we never leave the woods where our heroes live and work. There is an overwhelming sense of isolation, often times even from one another. But this isolation is less an oppressive force than it is a liberating one: a man alone is not something to be feared, but something to be (occasionally) revered and enjoyed for its rare quality. JOE is the polar opposite of this philosophy. If AVALANCHE represents the side of the coin that is Man Alone, then certainly JOE represents Man Together: a pointed look at contemporary society and how men’s roles have shifted somewhat since the frontier days.

Because at its core, JOE is practically a modern Western, with Nicolas Cage taking the role of the beaten down sheriff. In his most impressive monologue in the film, Cage waxes nostalgic about the good ol’ days: “There’s no frontier anymore”, he laments, providing the thesis for the film. Back in the old days, a man and his pistol were all the protection a family needed. Nowadays, things are not so simple. Junkyard dogs are more common than honor and grit, and justice seems to turn a blind eye towards the big problems in favor of hunting down petty crimes. Cage’s Joe makes his stance on the subject abundantly clear: nobody is going to take personal justice out of his own hands and put it into the hands of others.

The titular character – played admirably by Cage – is a man of another time. He takes the law into his own hands, both punitively and as a figure of authority. But unlike a show like JUSTIFIED, where the rough-and-tumble, out-of-time sheriff who lives by the old code finds himself as a fish out of water in contemporary society, Joe is not alone in his thinking. Green takes great pains to show that the majority of this rural area in which Joe lives goes by his thinking. There are standoffs in bars, shootouts are an everyday occurrence and brothels are a frequent hangout spot. It is the frontier, for all intents and purposes – a small, isolated community which never outgrew its frontier days. And yet, these aren’t the old days; such a lifestyle is not sustainable. Joe has zero tolerance for police and any authority other than his own. According to him, all they do is get in the way of him doing what needs to be done. They get in the way of him being the man that he seems to think he should be – the one who protects the people close to him (including himself) by any means necessary. And this type of thinking is just not something that can be perpetually sustained in today’s society, no matter how frontier-esque it may appear.

And so we’re treated to a wide variety of Western semiotics and good-dog / bad-dog metaphors: “That dog’s a good dog”, Joe explains when young Gary (Sheridan) seems put off by the bulldog he keeps under his porch. (Hint: he’s not talking about the dog.) Later, after the dog has run away and Joe and Gary have found him by the side of the road, the kid notices that the dog is covered in scars – presumably from all the times Joe has used him to take down what he considers to be “bad dogs”. “He’s got a lot of scars,” says Gary. “Yeah, but all the others is dead,” responds Joe. (Hint two: he’s still not talking about the dog.)

At the core of the film is the relationship between Joe and Gary. Joe, who sees himself as a position of authority, comes to find himself in a paternal position, as well. Despite his girlfriend’s attempts to push him into domesticity, it takes this young boy to show Joe that being an authoritative figure, the one who takes care of people, means you have to have people to take care of. And fifteen-year-old Gary, who is the sole breadwinner of his family because of his drunken and abusive father, is a hard worker and a good dog. So Joe takes him under his wing, and will go to the ends of the earth, justice be damned, to protect him.

Green films the movie with an ambient, free-flowing kind of style, once again using the music of David Wingo (though this time collaborating with Jeff McIlwain, rather than post-rock outfit Explosions in the Sky) to superb effect. He fills it with tiny, human moments, particularly a powerful montage which includes shots of Gary’s father Wade drunkenly breakdancing in the street, as well as an absolutely devastating scene between Wade and a local, homeless drifter. Sheridan, meanwhile, continues a very strong year: following up the equally terrific MUD (not to mention his first feature in 2011, TREE OF LIFE), the young actor has established himself as one to keep on your radar.

Between JOE and PRINCE AVALANCHE, David Gordon Green has reestablished himself among the most compelling independent directors working today. A terrific, powerful film.

[A]

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – It’s Terrible to Be Alone Too Much: Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE

1-The-Double-Richard-Ayoade

Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE is one of the best movies of the year. Co-written by the actor / writer / director along with Avi Korine, the film is a contemporary take on Dostoyevsky’s classic novella: the story of a man (Jesse Eisenberg) who gradually finds his life being usurped by a doppelgänger. It’s classic setup, and one which we’ve seen put on the screen a number of times in the last few years alone. Yet Ayoade’s film is so stylized, so different and so tightly constructed that it manages to stand apart in a wonderfully entertaining way.

THE DOUBLE is a darkly comic, surreal nightmare. From the lighting (which is extremely high-contrast and almost noir-esque) to the claustrophobic, dirty and detailed stage design (which recalls early Terry Gilliam, most notably from BRAZIL), you know exactly what kind of movie you’re about to watch from the very first frame. Lights flickering and short-circuiting above his head, a cacophony of sounds surrounding and almost oppressing him, Eisenberg’s Simon James (counterpointed against his doppelgänger’s James Simon) sits alone on a train. Moments later, a faceless passenger appears and announces that Simon is sitting in his spot – despite the fact that every other seat in the car is empty. It’s the perfect opening to a film which relies so heavily on the idea that Simon barely exists, even before his life is taken over by James; as one character so accurately notes, he’s “not very noticeable”. He is wallpaper. He is a ghost.

Eisenberg could not have found a more perfect role(s) for himself than this. Much like Cera’s double-sided turn in YOUTH IN REVOLT, Eisenberg gets a chance to flex both muscles: the ineptly shy, cripplingly introverted Simon, juxtaposed against James’ sociable and nearly sociopathic levels of geniality are the perfect playground for Eisenberg, and he hits it out of the park at every turn. From his stutter and almost unbearable awkwardness to scary levels of extroversion, he treads the whole spectrum with ease.

Ayoade’s visuals are fully complimentary as well. This is one of those rare films that is completely and wholly realized in the best way possible. Faces are constantly obscured – by shadows, by composition, by limbs and objects. They are nearly always revealed from behind something, rather than displayed as a given. In a perfect early example, Simon – his face half-covered by his own arm – slides his face backwards in order to get a better view of a woman in the next train car. In doing so, he reveals the other side of his face, and the simple change between those hemispheres at the presence of this woman is unnerving and revealing of his character.

The film is filled to the brim with absurdist humor, again, much in the style of Terry Gilliam. The bureaucratic nightmare which is Simon’s place of employment is filled with hanging wires, pipes, 50′s-style imaginings of future computers and dimly-lit cubicles. It’s straight out of BRAZIL, sure, but it works here magnificently. Ayoade brings with him his own unique brand of dry, contemporary British humor as well, so the “jokes” come fast and hard. Dialogue exchanges are rapid-fire, each played with a perfectly subtle comedic tone, all desperately revelatory. This is the kind of film where characters openly say what they’re thinking, and the subtext beyond that is more in the abstract than in the literal. It’s all extremely surreal, like a fever dream of another world. A favorite scene involves a pair of detectives whose sole job is to investigate suicides – something which is so rampant in their city that they can barely cover Simon’s neighborhood alone. Their biting dialogue and cool indifference is more revelatory of Simon’s state of mind than of their own.

Because this is definitely a very subjective film. Everything takes place through the eyes of Simon, and it’s hard to know how much of it is a manifestation of his own disturbed mind or whether or not this is just how this world operates. His love-interest / girl that he is obsessed with, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), even seems to share agency with him. Though she’s clearly on her own path, the way she moves and speaks seem more of a twisted version of reality, filtered through Simon’s off-centered eyes.

The film understandably explores interesting ideas about identity, individuality and other themes which are common to this kind of story, but the true strength of THE DOUBLE isn’t in the story itself – it’s in the way the story is told. Ayoade and his crew have crafted a wonderfully unique and memorable film, and everybody involved brings their A-game. Everything about it is dense, layered, funny, compelling and thought-provoking. It deserves repeat viewings and thorough analysis, something which is rare to see these days. See it as soon as possible.

[A+]

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – Master of Puppets: Nimród Antal’s METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER

metallica-through-the-never-dane-dehaan1

Nimród Antal’s METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER is a lot of different things. It’s a concert film, presented in IMAX 3D. It’s a surreal, post-apocalyptic narrative starring the wonderful Dane DeHaan. It’s a weird, genre-bending hybrid film that strives to do something a little bit different. But more than anything else, it’s just one gigantic mess.

Several years ago, Toronto’s own Broken Social Scenes premiered a film at the Toronto International Film Festival under the name THIS MOVIE IS BROKEN. In a similar fashion to Metallica’s latest foray into cinema, it presented two seemingly-connected ideas: one, a concert film documenting the supergroup’s mid-garbage-strike, free-for-all, lakeside performance, and the other, a surreal fictional element of a few characters who were on their way to (then at, then leaving) the concert.

THROUGH THE NEVER does something similar, though it seems to have missed the memo about that earlier work. Whereas BROKEN put the narrative at the thematic forefront of the project, creating a stirring, compelling story about hedonism in youthfulness, NEVER takes the alternate approach: this is a movie about Metallica, and any experimental ideas that they may have initially wanted to put into the film get left by the wayside in favor of more concert footage. There is no balance between the two sides of the story, and every time you find yourself craving a return to the narrative, you’re treated to three or four more songs in a row (with a shot or two of DeHaan thrown in to remind you that he, you know, exists). In other words, the band (and possibly Natal, as well) consider the band more important than the project itself, and THROUGH THE NEVER suffers for it.

It’s hard to blame Natal for any of this, though. Finding himself in the middle of a self-funded project developed by the world’s leading metal act – after all, they do get story credits – cannot have been the easiest situation to be in. And it’s obvious that this is detrimental to the overall project. He brings a ton of kineticism and visual grandiose to the proceedings – the film looks absolutely beautiful, and he dresses his sets with visually arresting imagery – but wrestling the project away from the metal monsters and towards integrity may have been a bit out of his depth.

DeHaan, in particular, is entirely wasted. Though he brings a powerful and impressive presence to the screen, he never utters more than a word or two throughout the 90-minute runtime. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in another film, it could be a very daring and ambitious choice. But in reality, it just serves to underscore how half-baked the narrative elements of this film are. It’s not just that the “plot” is paper-thin and makes almost no sense – a film with this level of surreality is often better off dealing with narratives in the abstract – it’s that it’s treated as such an afterthought that you never get a chance to be absorbed by or even care about its inclusion in the film.

Which is the film’s biggest sin: the fact that you dread a return to the increasingly shallow and uninteresting narrative they occasionally cut to, as if the incredible concert you’re watching isn’t enough to keep your attention. The story is given such little weight in the runtime that it might as well not even exist. In fact, if this had been a straight concert film, it would have been a wildly superior film: the IMAX 3D visuals make it one of the most intimate and grand concerts ever committed to film, and the band performs at the top of their game. This might be one of those extremely memorable concert movies, if only they hadn’t “tacked on” the narrative.

But the real problem isn’t the narrative’s existence. Antal and the band should be commended for trying to do something a little bit different, and including it was a great idea  - in theory. Whether it was over-inflated egos or poor execution which resulted in cutting the narrative’s presence back to near-irrelevance is something we may never know, but once it became clear that everybody involved agreed that the band would be the focus of the film – rather than equal weight being given to both elements – they ought to have just cut their losses and made it a concert film.

Because the strength of the film is absolutely in the concert. Metallica may be entering their fourth decade of existence, but they’re still fabulous performers and musicians. Their playing is top-notch, their knack for spectacle is first-rate, and Antal commits the whole thing to film in a way that’s engrossing, awesome and, most importantly, a real treat for long-time fans. They ought to have either gone all-in on the performance element, or figured out a way to give the narrative element increased relevance in the feature.

Especially because DeHaan really is quite great. He’s one of our most promising young actors, and as a character who doesn’t get a single line in the entire film, he remains a stoic, engaging presence for every frame he is in. He gives the movie his all – it’s just a shame that the script doesn’t give him the same level of respect.

Still, when all is said and done, this is a pretty great showcase for Metallica, and fans are definitely going to find a lot to love here. The audio track and the visuals are unparalleled, and fans are likely going to be cheering their seats. Anybody looking for something more than that, however, should steer clear of the whole affair.

Better yet, they should rent THIS MOVIE IS BROKEN instead.

[D+]

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – My Home’s Here at the Jersey Shore: Harvey Weinstein’s 12.12.12.

121212_01

Every year at the Toronto International Film Festival, I go looking for a certain kind of film. It’s not always there, and even when it is, it often tends to get lost amongst the shuffle of all of the usually more-high-profile selections. It’s the sort of film whose sole purpose is to express pure joy; pure, positive emotion. It’s the sort of film where the usual method of analysis and categorization are irrelevant, because the overwhelmingly positive vibe which it emits trumps all other sense of reason.

This year, 12.12.12. is that film.

The movie follows the exploits of three producers  - James Dolan, John Sykes and the ever-compelling Harvey Weinstein – in the aftermath of the devastation which Hurricane Sandy wreaked on America’s east coast last year. Through candid interviews – though, notably, never as talking heads – the documentary observes as a top force of Hollywood’s elite assembles one of the most impressive concert fundraisers of all time – in less than four weeks, to boot.

12.12.12. is not a documentary in the traditional sense. It has no official “director”, though a conversation with Weinstein after the film suggests that producer Meghan O’Hara may unofficially fill that role. In reality, it’s more of a showcase for the charitable spirit and good will that these filmmakers bestowed upon the devastated regions in the wake of a tragedy. It wouldn’t be surprising in the least if a fair number of people found the entire affair to be a bit self-congratulatory, a little self-serving, and more than a little pompous.

But it’s not. The filmmakers do everything in their power to properly contextualize the narrative, and it offers a great glimpse into what it was like around that time. Not only do we get pristine concert footage of some of the greatest living musical legends on the big screen, we get to see them behind-the-scenes at their most intimate, we get to see every detail (and hiccup) involved in making such a large-scale production work, and we get to see actors and celebrities from all walks of entertainment life come out to support the cause.

But much, much more importantly, we get a sense of the people. The film is filled with nearly as many shots of crowd members as band members, and we spend almost as much time amongst the heroes of the tragedy as we do with the performers. The filmmakers do a great job of splicing in footage, statistics and interviews with people who were directly affected by the storm: cell phone footage of a devastated boardwalk, news footage of cars floating down streets, casual conversations with nurses, firefighters, police officers and even local community leaders who helped control the chaos when things were looking their bleakest.

And it is this human element that makes the film such a success. The filmmakers know that a series of powerful, emotional and legendary performances was not enough for a film like this. East-coasters deserve better, and they get it. One of the most striking sequences in the film involves a handful of locals at a Brooklyn bait and tackle shop / bar, where they watch the concert on television. At one particular moment, a sanitation worker cheers loudly at the TV when Steve Buscemi congratulates his branch of civil workers. Cheers all around, some pats on the back, and his beaming face up at the TV. Nothing more is required.

The film boasts some terrific performances from some of the most popular musicians of all time: The Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney, The Who, Billy Joel, Roger Waters, Eddie Vedder, Bon Jovi, Alicia Keys, Kanye West… The list goes on. But as the film opens on a shot of Bruce Springsteen’s face as he croons melancholically about being raised in the swamps of Jersey, you recognize that this is not just a big party for celebrities; it’s about the people, and about the places. And that makes it a very special concert film, indeed.

12.12.12. is alternately beautiful and awesome. The cinematography is wonderful, the concert and its behind-the-scenes access are unparalleled and its cause is indisputable. Maybe it is all a little bit self-absorbed, but if it is, it’s deservedly so: these producers did a great thing with this fundraiser, and though they could have chosen to make the film entirely about their own importance, they turn the cameras onto the people who really matter. And as an East-coaster myself, I truly appreciate that.

I hope that everybody in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and all of the places afflicted by the storm get a chance to see this film. It’s all for them.

8/10

d.a. garabedian