“Marley” – Movie Review

You don’t have to be stoned to watch the most recent documentary about Bob Marley titled Marley. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you don’t have to be stoned to watch Marley. Really. I’ve seen it twice, the last time sober and accompanied by two friends: one that works in media and my roommate who works in tech. Like me, both of them really enjoyed the movie and the three of us were the perfect target audience:

  • A Bob Marley & The Wailers fan (a.k.a. me).
  • Someone that enjoys watching anything related to music (a.k.a. my friend).
  • A person willing to watch anything that’s educational (a.k.a. my roommate).

The movie is beautifully shot and the kind of access that director Kevin MacDonald has is truly terrific. There are never before seen home videos, wonderful Jamaican archival footage, private family photographs and multiple anecdotes from key players who were directly connected to Bob Marley throughout his life. Ziggy Marley (Bob Marley’s son and musician) and Chris Blackwell (former producer for Bob Marley & The Wailers) are Executive Producers for the film and even though that is usually not a good sign for a story that’s impartially told, in this case, thanks to their involvement the story feels intimate, three dimensional and complex. One of the reasons why their Executive Producer credits don’t bother me is because there are many ways of confirming the information that they disclose in their interviews. The documentary certainly presents Bob Marley under a flattering light, but many of the facts can be easily confirmed online which makes it difficult to argue that they happened in the way the documentary tells it. When you follow the life of a boy that grew up in poverty in Jamaica and becomes a man that achieves timeless international fame by singing songs about love and freedom, one has to try really hard to dislike the guy. Not every musician out there will (has or would) sing in the middle of a tear gas bomb attack. I don’t want to spoil the film, but it’s kind of unbelievable. Just sayin’.

The beginning of the movie is slow, possibly intentionally. It seems as if the filmmakers take time to introduce the story and they don’t assume that the audience knows anything about Bob Marley, The Wailers or the origins of their music. I can respect slow exposition if there is a steady build up and a meaningful pay off and I believe this film has all those elements. Like my friends, I think there could have been more context, especially in terms of Jamaican politics and the Rastafarian philosophy. At the same time, it is mentioned that Bob did not care about politic, and even though his songs were politically charged, political party association was never part of his agenda. To me, that’s a good enough reason to let go of my curiosity about Jamaica’s political climate. Ultimately, that is not what this film is about.

I strongly recommend you check out Marley not only because you can watch it for “free” on Netflix, but mostly because I would hope that this story will remind you of just how strong will-power can be. Perhaps this film will urge you to think about what you believe in and highlight some of your values, your morals, your love. Marley is kind of an inspirational film and in contrast to what other local critics are saying, I don’t think this is a movie for fans only. It’s a move for everyone.

For that, I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

It’s awards season boys and girls!

I looove the red carpet, I love it. I love picking the best and worst dressed, the speeches, the fuck ups, the emotional rants. This year I went to see the Golden Globes at Producer Heather Haggarty‘s house. The cocktails were fabulous, the pork was a little fatty, and at the end of the night I left Heather’s house with a promise to get up to speed before the Academy Awards. So far I’ve seen most of the films nominated for best picture with the exception of Lincoln and Beasts of the Southern Wild. All the rest:  Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Amour and Argo I have seen and I am very underwhelmed.

Where are the memorable moments of supposedly the “best films of 2012”? So far, the nominees for best documentary film have been far more stimulating and thought provoking with Searching for Sugar Man and The Invisible War (go ITVS!). Does anyone know why documentaries can’t be nominated for best picture? Really, I would like to know.

I believe in the power of good performances and am sad to admit that… none have swept me off my feet this year. There are some very strong moments:
– Anne Hathaway’s solo song in Les Miserables was great yet I really hope I don’t have to listen to another one of her overly rehearsed speeches.
–  I loved Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook and I wonder if a romantic comedy could award him the golden statue.
– Samuel Jackson was brilliant in Django which was probably the one aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed.
– Jessica Chastain was good in Zero Dark Thirty but to me, rather than her performance, it was the symbolism of her final close-up with the white straps and the red background, what made the moment memorable.

I have not seen Lincoln yet (Sue McNamara: I’m still rooting for you!) so I have not lost faith. If I had to pick a favorite  right now my vote would go to Argo for one simple reason: Ben Affleck just seems like a reeeeally nice guy. Yes, awards should be about more than that. They should all be about celebrating the best films, the best crews, the best performances; they should not be about grand screening parties or profitable distribution deals. But we have to remember that Hollywood is a business and the Oscars, its biggest political campaign.  Ladies and gentlemen, come February 24th I hope you enjoy the show.

Props to Les Blank

Who doesn’t love a 76 year old man wearing a cardigan? Les blank is cool and approachable and at the end of his presentation I wanted to walk over to him and smell his sweater. Thankfully for my co-workers, I decided against it and shook his hand instead.

He spoke at an event hosted by the SF Film Society called “Master Class: Les Blank on Documentary” — thank you ITVS! Most film fanatics out there have heard of Les Blank, or, at the very least they are familiar with some of his films such as Burden of Dreams or A Poem Is a Naked Person. For me, it wasn’t until attending this seminar that I was introduced to some of his other work and got a taste of his unique voice as a documentarian.

Les Blank is tall, thin, and has a wonderfully trimmed, thick white beard. He is soft spoken, goes straight to the point, and most importantly, he is one of the most humble filmmakers I’ve ever met. If you tell Les Blank he is a true artist, he will give you a puzzled look followed by a nonchalant ‘thanks’; when you ask him what his secret is, he will tell you he has none; and if somebody comments on his amazing ability to get unlimited access he will make a joke and say ‘I just hang around until eventually people get tired of me’. Les Blank’s vision is not simple but he doesn’t waste much time presenting himself as a superior visionaire.

I have seen about four of his films, all produced by his production company Flower Films. After watching them I began to admire how Les Blank captures situations and people is a very gentle way. He doesn’t stage any of his interviews and he may toss cue cards up in the air to give himself a fresh start in the editing room. Rather than producing with his thinking mind, Les Blank feels the story and then goes from there.

By looking him up on imdb it becomes obvious that Les is constantly working, always looking for the next interesting story to tell. His films capture family, traditions, soul, passion, and so many other aspects of life. Without documentary filmmakers like him, we would miss out on a great opportunity to experience the world through a different point of view, from another angle, with a different lens. That’s what a brilliant documentary filmmaker does, he lets a subject be free to express itself without judgements or hesitation. Les knows how to be patient behind the camera yet he is fearless when it comes to finding the true nature of the story. And regardless of his liking of the label, I think Les Blank is a genuine, passionate artist whose films inspire, educate, and resonate with audiences of all ages, all around the world.