5 posts categorized "Mockumentary"

November 02, 2015

MAN BITES DOG — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

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ColeSmithey.comSelf-reflexive social satire rarely comes with such a hilarious fury of black humor as it does in this ingenious mockumentary about filming a serial killer’s pursuits. This ahead of its time movie kicks its audience in its reality-TV-loving teeth. The incendiary character/social study was created and executed by four aspiring film students from Belgium for a school graduation project. Andre Bonzel, Benoit Poelvoorde, and Remy Belvaux co-write, direct, and act as an ersatz cinema vérité crew, filming Benoit (aka Ben), an amiable murderer with nice clothes, good friends, loving parents, an active social life, and closely held beliefs on every imaginable topic. Ben is also an accomplished musician (he plays piano in a classic music duo with his childhood girlfriend). He even writes poetry. Ben is a sophisticated and socialized psychopath.

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With his beautifully blunted French nose, Benoit Poelvoorde’s exceedingly articulate character represents a specific stereotype of a Gallic bon vivant man-child. He’s a man of the people, and of the people he kills without regret, children included. Ben likes to philosophize at length, directly into the camera of course, about social realities he finds disappointing. He also likes to knock off (kill) a mailman at the beginning of every month.

Ben’s quick wit, and loose physicality, is infectious. This guy is a smoothie. Wearing a suit with his tie tucked into his shirt; Ben sits by a river in front a nuclear reactor. He explains to us the various weight ratio formulas needed to ballast the different types of corpses he disappears there — midgets, old people etc. However, Ben’s humane argument in support of stylistically appealing architecture for low-income housing, sits distantly opposite to his occupation as a wanton killer and thief.

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In its opening scene Ben strangles a woman on a train. He really puts himself into his work. We will witness Ben commit countless other unprovoked killings, many in startling quick-cut montages, throughout the movie. Still, we can’t help but empathize with Poelvoorde’s insatiable creation for his generosity of spirit if nothing else. It’s logical to extrapolate from the film’s theme of obligatory killing as a hazard that people like American police officers feel necessary to compulsively commit. An especially admirable aspect of the film’s satire is how universally it can be construed, and/or applied to a myriad of capitalist-based situations.

ManBitesDog
Jean Luc Godard’s influence is all over this black-and-white picture. Travelling handheld camera shots enable sudden chase sequences to ignite. For his part, Ben could be a first cousin to Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Michel character in Goddard’s 1960 breakthrough picture “Breathless.” In his natty sports coat Ben is a stylish rogue infatuated with women, and with murder. John McNaughton’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (1986) also appears to have been influential on this film.

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The camera crew follows Ban to a reservoir where he dumps the covered-and-tied corpses of his victims. The sight of Ben’s victims’ corpses falling from a great height while banging off a rocky cliff is disturbing for the matter-of-fact way the imagery is depicted. Here is an example of many such sequences, made more ostensibly authentic due to the picture’s cheap film stock.

“Man Bites Dog” premiered at Cannes in 1992 where its French title “C'est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous” translates roughly to “It Happened in Your Neighborhood.” It embraces all of the typical bourgeoisie tropes of middle-class French society, and then lets loose one of their own against them. The movie’s sense of tragedy is as profound as its black comedy.

Rated NC-17. 95 mins. 

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

October 02, 2013

CBGB

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!

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Screen Shot 2022-12-22 at 1.54.09 PMElevator Punk
Hilly Krystal Brief Biopic Pastiche

You have to hand it to director/co-writer Randall Miller for trying to take on the hornets' nest of the punk rock movement: CBGB’s, the grungy Lower East Side bar that gave punk a home base before anyone had an inkling of what punk rock was. Alas, trying isn’t good enough.

As with most things filmic, the problems are rooted in the script. Miller and his recurring script collaborator Jody Savin (Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School”) create a comic pastiche centered on Hilly Kristal, the visionary proprietor who opened up his Bowery dive bar to bands such as Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, and the Ramones.

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Unfortunately, the film dips its toe into biopic territory too much for the ostensibly furious purpose it seeks to achieve — namely, representing a crash-course on some East Coast bands that set the world on fire.

Casting is a hurdle that no living filmmaker could solve. Here is a movie that should have been made in the 1980s so that the actual musicians could have played themselves. Watching Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins try to channel Iggy Pop is like watching a dog play a cat; it just doesn’t work. Likewise, a scene involving said singer being sexually propositioned by the Ramones’ manager hits the screen with a thud.

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Doomed from its inception, “CBGB” leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth for reasons obvious and clandestine. If you have even a passing knowledge of the bands on display — not the least of which is the Dead Boys — you’ll sink in your seat while you watch some half-assed copycat try to pass himself off as Stiv Bators. We are talking about Stiv—freaking—Bators—one of the most charismatic rock stars of all time, who was possessed of a prodigious ability to phrase teen angst in a hugely charismatic voice. Needless to say, Justin Bartha’s performance as Stiv Bators is an anemic thing lacking in the humor, sarcasm, and panache of its original creator.

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To its credit the move captures a few glimpses of the magic that punk stars like Patti Smith conjured — if only for brief moments — on a crappy stage in a crappy bar covered with its owner’s dog’s prodigious crap.

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If you’re a punk veteran then you’re — at youngest — on the dark side of your 40s. Nonetheless, you will be drawn to see “CBGB” for yourself. You will be disappointed, but you will also be reminded of a magical time when music meant something, and the bands that played poured every bit of their souls into every note. Sad to say, that’s as good as it gets for punk fans who actually saw punk bands like The Cramps or Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. It's also as good as it’s ever going to get for this kind of movie.

Rated R. 101 mins.

2 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

April 14, 2011

THIS IS SPINAL TAP — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 

 

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Though examples of the mockumentary genre existed before "Spinal Tap," this heavy metal comedy is considered an epitome of the genre’s tongue-in-cheek style. Conceived and written by the comedy team of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and director Rob Reiner, “This is Spinal Tap” sends up Heavy Metal music and its silly lifestyle that permeated the globe in 1984 when the film was made.

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The cinematic hoax is so close to the ridiculous truth of the early '80s heavy metal scene that some audiences believed "Spinal Tap" was a real documentary. William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” also gave the “Spinal Tap” title a cultural marker since Linda Blair’s demon-possessed Regan undergoes the notoriously painful procedure in a medical effort to diagnose her violent condition and behavior.

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Rob Reiner plays documentary filmmaker Martin Di Bergi, whose love of the British rock group Spinal Tap inspires him to document the band's disastrous 1982 American concert tour in support of their equally doomed [15th] album "Smell the Glove." During his straight-to-camera introduction, Di Bergi calls his film a "rockumentary." It's a clue to the audience that everything that transpires occurs within a comedic context.

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Sticking to a routine documentary format, Reiner intersperses jiggly-camera interview footage with "impromptu" social settings and live-performance footage of the goofy band living out their rock ‘n’ roll dream.

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During a limo ride with the group, their talkative driver oversteps his bounds by trying to engage the band in meaningful conversation about Frank Sinatra. An electric window that separates the front from the back seats goes up to passively silence the chauffer. Humorous value judgments are made. Sinatra weren’t no rocker, now go away.

"It's such a fine line between stupid and clever." That amusing line, spoken by Christopher Guest's longhaired rock star, amply sums up the comic tension that the briskly edited movie builds upon. Everything is saturated with details. During a party scene, band mates David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) wear nearly matching herpes sores on their lips without comment. Every job has its risks.

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The picture's overriding strength lies in the fictitious group's backstory, and expertly crafted songs that range from rockabilly through blues, and hippy folk songs. Their heavy metal material contains musical and lyrical jokes galore. If the comic set pieces don't get you, sidesplitting performances of songs like "Big Bottom" and "Stonehenge" surely will.

Rated R. 83 mins. 

5 Stars“ColeSmithey.com“

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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