Reviews Film PROFILE
COMEDY TAKING WOODSTOCK (15) 110min ●●●●●
After the hardcore sex-and-politics of Lust, Caution, Ang Lee finds peace and love with this amiable comedy about how the world’s most iconic music festival came to pass. The film is based on a true story: stand-up comedian turned actor Demetri Martin plays Elliot, a failed interior designer forced to help run his Jewish parents’ (including a top-form Imelda Staunton) beat- up Catskills motel. Once there he spies an once-in-a- lifetime business opportunity when he hears the organisers of a hippie music festival have had their permit revoked in a neighbouring town.
With Woodstock the backdrop to Elliot’s own concerns – in particular how he comes out to his parents – some viewers may be disappointed that Lee makes no real attempt to recreate the actual stage (at
best it’s glimpsed from a distance). Yet it’s unfair to say you don’t get a feel for the festival – from the remarkable Le Weekend-inspired scene in which a flower-power cop gives Elliot a ride through a huge queue of festival-goers to the climactic acid sequence, where he drops a tab with a couple in a VW van. If the film itself is somewhat rambling, then perhaps
that’s because going to a festival the size of Woodstock is always going to throw up random encounters – whether it be with Liev Schreiber’s ex-Marine cross- dresser or Emile Hirsch’s bitter Vietnam veteran. Certainly compared to Lee’s last foray into this territory – his 1970s-set The Ice Storm – Taking Woodstock is a much milder joint. But with the late reference to Altamont, Lee ensures we don’t forget that the dark clouds were about to gather over the peace movement. (James Mottram) ■ General release from Fri 13 Nov. See profile.
COMEDY COLD SOULS (12A) 101min ●●●●●
It’s not surprising that this deadpan existential comedy has been compared, favourably, to Being John Malkovich. Aside from boasting a similarly mind-bending premise (here revolving around the storage, sale and swapping of people’s souls), it stars Paul Giamatti playing a character called Paul Giamatti who’s modelled on the American actor’s often highly neurotic screen persona (see Sideways, etc).
As the film opens, Giamatti’s in rehearsals with a New York
production of Uncle Vanya. Unfortunately, Chekhov’s masterpiece about wasted lives is depressing the already melancholic actor, and so, on the advice of a friend, Giamatti visits a mysterious upmarket Manhattan clinic run by the debonair Dr Flintstein (David Strathairn, excellent as ever) that specialises in extracting troubling souls much in the way one would have a cyst removed. Thereafter, Giamatti finds himself no longer troubled by existential angst, but, now soulless, he can’t act. It’s a clever conceit and marvellously sardonic commentary on the
soullessness of contemporary American society. French-born, Middle East-raised, NYC-resident filmmaker Sophie Barthes’ debut easily stands up to comparisons with Charlie Kaufman’s modern classic, but her film distinguishes itself by being more, for want of a better word, soulful. Barthes, who says her chief inspirations were Carl Jung, Woody Allen and Luis Buñuel, proves herself to be a real talent to watch. (Miles Fielder) ■ Selected release from Fri 13 Nov.
DEMETRI MARTIN Born 25 May 1973, New York City
Background A stand-up comic by trade, Martin’s 2003 show If I won the Perrier award at the Edinburgh Fringe. He’s written for such US staples as Late Night With Conan O’Brien and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. And his comedy CD (These Are Jokes) and DVD (Demetri Martin. Person) have helped turn him into one of the most sought-after comics of his generation.
What’s he up to now? Taking the lead in Ang Lee’s flower power comedy Taking Woodstock. He also makes an appearance in quirky docu-drama Paper Heart this fortnight. On his generation versus the 1960s ‘At least the youth [in the 1960s] seemed mobilised and connected, even if it was just in a very peaceful and passive way. Just assembling themselves meant something. Whereas here people stay in their house and e- mail each other and say “Join my Facebook group”.’
On his sudden elevation to leading man ‘It’s surreal. The more I try to be present about stuff and think about it as a little temporary perk, the healthier I feel about stuff. If I think, “Oh my God, I hope I was good enough that I still get to be in movies again.” I can’t control that. If it’s good enough, I get another chance. If not, then I’ll work in my family’s diner.’
Interesting fact Martin was cast as a statistician in Steven Soderbergh’s high-profile baseball drama Moneyball – alongside Brad Pitt – but the film was cancelled three days before shooting was due to begin. (James Mottram) ■ Taking Woodstock is on general release from Fri 13 Nov. See review, left. Paper Heart is on selected release from Fri 6 Nov. See Also Released, page 47.
5–19 Nov 2009 THE LIST 45