Friday, February 6, 2009

Man on Wire (2008)

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Is it possible to make an entire documentary out of a tightrope walk that spanned less than one hour over thirty years ago? James Marsh says yes, and has made the best documentary of the year, the enthralling Man on Wire. In 1974 Philippe Petit and two friends secretly made his way to the top of the World Trade Center, suspended a rope between the two buildings. Petit walked, danced, and laid upon the rope for 45 minutes. Floating in the clouds a quarter of a mile above the streets of New York City, Petit completed his life dream, came down, was arrested, released, and returned to France. Man on Wire captures the remarkable images of a man balancing his life within millimeters on the most unlikely stage. Petit's act has been called a criminal stunt, the act of a madman, and an image of profound beauty. The documentary explores how this fascinating dream came to be, what motivated it all to happen, and how the act was planned and executed over a span of months. Starting in a dental office, Petit realized his dream of completing the biggest tightrope walking challenge in the world, and he began his steps toward realizing it. His story is told both through actual footage, past interviews, and new interviews of Petit and his friends made for the film. Most of the film is in English, but some of the interviewees speak only French which is subtitled. Petit's uncanny passion and perspective on life drive the film, and the true story becomes more of a thriller than a documentary. The film chronicles his development as a tightrope walker, starting on a rope in a field and moving to buildings, bridges, and eventually the world's tallest buildings at the time, the World Trade Center. The years of planning, the emotional roller coaster of his crew, and their willingness to help their friend realize his dream are inspiring, and the build-up to the climactic walk will have everyone holding on to the edge of their seats. To Petit and his crew, the daring act was a heavenly ballet, the zenith of the human mind and body, and although few may feel see things this way before the film, the raw images of the act will convert many. Petit explains that accomplishing ones purpose in life is worth anything; what more glorious way to die than in the effort of achieving one's dream. This spirit carries Man on Wire to great heights, and the humanity of the effort and act are jaw-dropping and invigorating. A great story is only great if it is told the right way, and Marsh puts the pieces of this fabulous puzzle together just right.

Good for: all movie-goers, documentary fans, fans of thrillers

Bad for: people who don't like subtitles, the easily bored

The Gallery
The Film Maker: * * * *

Son of Rambow (2008)

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Films with a primarily pre-pubescent cast are behind the eight-ball from the start. Toss in British humor and the remaining audience willing to watch such a film is sparse. But Son of Rambow is more than just a comedy for kids, its a tribute to youthful adventure and the spirit of creativity. The film stars Bill Milner as Will Proudfoot, a young boy raised in a overwhelmingly strict religious household in 1980s Britain. Will's mother keeps him in check both at home and at school, and his life of constant order has made him extremely shy and quiet. A bully in his grade, Lee Carter, played by Will Poulter, saves him from trouble one day by taking the blame in the principal's office. In return, Carter demands that Milner act and assist in creating his homemade full length feature "Son of Rambow." The situations and drama that ensue is a mixed bag of hearty laughs and predictable plot twists, all spiced with British dialogue and humor. Poulter and Milner, both in their acting debuts, deliver solid performances considering the circumstances, and the friend/foe chemistry between them drives the plot quite a ways. Director Garth Jennings guides the cast of mostly children into believable performances, and his witty script is both deadpan and satirical. Jennings love for film-making is apparent in the detailed references Lee Carter espouses in his quest to make a full-length movie. The story is cute and there is plenty to laugh at, but the final third of the movie devolves into typical children's movie conclusions most everyone has seen far too many times. The film is much more effective in highlighting artistic passion and exploration than familial relationships and decision making. The energy and playfulness of the film can only carry the story so far, however, before it becomes more of the same. Jennings has improved over his dreadful interpretation of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but Son of Rambow still leaves something to be desired. Expect to see more of Poulter and Milner, however, as their onscreen tag-team is reminiscent of a young Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Good for: British comedy fans, parents with children, film-makers

Bad for: people who don't like kids, those who don't get British humor (humour)