Maybe I should call these “quick” or “slightly shorter” reviews instead of “mini.” Idk. They are what they are.
Up today: Burt’s Buzz, Tomboy, and Inherent Vice
Quick Take: Burt’s Buzz is an intriguing, entertaining, but somewhat aimless documentary about the eccentric, fascinating, and terribly obscure Burt Shavitz. The French film Tomboy offers a refreshingly mature and beautifully minimalist tale on childhood, growing up, and gender identity. Inherent Vice may not be PTA’s best work, but it is still a beautiful and well-written film that repackages many elements of the stoner comedy genre into an intelligent, melancholic, and emotionally complex form.
Burt’s Buzz (2014)
Directed by Jody Shapiro
Watched on Jan 16
As I mentioned in my last bunch of reviews, I am not as experienced with watching documentaries as I would like. But I am working on it.
And thanks to Netflix, it doesn’t look like it will be all that difficult for me to do so.
Burt’s Buzz tells the/a story of Burt Shavitz (aka the bearded man pictured on the packaging for Burt’s Bees). Before watching the film, I had never even considered whether or not there really was a Burt somewhere behind the brand, but as it turns out, there is. And he’s quite the character.
The fact that Burt (who is in his 70s, lives in Maine, loves his dog, eschews many modern amenities, and is both lovably strange and strangely lovable) is such a character, is pretty much the only reason that the film works. Sure, putting a face to the Burt’s Bees brand (now owned by Clorox and run pretty much entirely without Burt) is interesting, and so are some of the questions that the film raises about capitalism and big business (and how personality determines whether or not one has a place in all of that), but Burt’s and his eccentricities are what sustain it all. He is an enigmatic and hard-to-pin-down sort of guy. In showing him to the world, Burt’s Buzz doesn’t dispel the mystery around him; it increases it.
While the film does seem to lack a certain focused perspective and may even be a tad overfond of Burt and his idiosyncrasies, there is something quietly charming, intriguing, and thoroughly watchable about Burt’s Buzz. Like it’s star, this single-subject documentary takes a slow and ambling approach to things and also seems hesitant to say all that it could. Still, it remains entertaining, memorable, and thought-provoking all the same. And while the film does not leave it’s audiences with the sort of concentrated emotions or crystal clear viewpoints that some other documentaries do, it does contain some some truly bizarre and even some rather touching moments that are sure to stick with them long after the credits roll.
Watch Burt’s Buzz now.
Directed by Céline Sciamma
Watched on Jan 16
Tomboy is the first Sciamma film that I have seen, but that it left me eager to see more of them should give you a sense of how much I enjoyed it. The film tells the story of a 10-year-old child named Laure whose family has just moved to a new neighborhood. It is clear from the beginning that Laure is a tomboy (and that her younger sister is not), and that her family has no issue with it. However, things become more complicated when she begins socializing with some of the neighborhood kids and tells them that her name is Mikael. As she spends her summer among them, she passes as a boy (not effortlessly, but successfully), and the story that unfolds as she does so is a charming and touching one.
Given the film’s subject matter—gender identity among children—the film could have easily been quite terrible. Childhood, growing up, self-discovery, and gender (and all that comes with it) are each incredibly complicated, nuanced, and emotional topics on their own. To tackle them all at once takes a skill, an intelligence, and a restraint that is not seen as often as one might like. Sciamma’s screenplay is extremely well-written; it takes it’s characters seriously without robbing them of their youth, and it presents tricky topics in a sincere, honest, and refreshingly unsensationalized way, and it does all of that without ever becoming too saccharine either.
Though the story it tells could be said to be a universal one, Sciamma (smartly) keeps her film firmly grounded in the personal. The film does not seek to make any overarching claims about gender identity, and it refuses to make any generalized statements about how one should go about raising a child who doesn’t quite fit binary-gender-mold.
Tomboy is a quiet, tender, and impactful film that draws a great deal of it’s power (and it’s beauty) from it’s minimalism, from it’s innocence, and from it’s willingness to keep things small.
Inherent Vice (2014)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Watched on Jan 24
I really don’t know how to review this movie. I’m pretty enthusiastic fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work (There Will be Blood is definitely one of my favorite films), but I also find it difficult to express what it is about his work that I find so appealing. Yes, he presents fascinating and complex character studies. Yes, he manages to marry the incredibly personal with almost unbelievably grand. But (for me anyway) there is more to it than that. When I finally put my finger on whatever that is, I’ll let you know.
Ok, Inherent Vice. The film is based a Thomas Pynchon novel. I’ve never read Pynchon, so I can’t really comment on whether the film stays true to the story, feel, or artistic vision of its source material
(Yes, I know. I was a English major). What I can comment on is what it was like to watch the film. Well, for starters, it was fun. It was also a tad confusing. With Inherent Vice, Anderson has crafted a film that leaves viewers feeling as if they, like Doc Sportello, are moving toward the end of something they won’t be able to recapture and that they are swimming in a hazy marijuana-laden fog.
While the film will probably frustrate casual viewers who go to see it based on nothing but a trailer they saw between car insurance commercials, fans of Anderson’s work are sure to find more than enough to love about this fun, sad, mournful, and slightly incoherent film about a stoner P.I. making his way through life at the end of an era. Many have pegged the film a comedy. I’m not sure how I feel about that label. Yes, Inherent Vice encourages viewers to laugh, but there is a real sorrow beneath just about all of its gags.
The always-on-point Joaquin Phoenix gives a great performance in this film, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in it’s title role. Katherine Waterson is also magnificent; though she is not on the screen all that often, there is something incredibly magnetic and elusive about her that is hard to forget. Josh Brolin also does fine work here and serves as a much-needed counterpoint to the mellow and drug-added Doc.
Personally, I can’t wait to watch Inherent Vice again, as something tells me that it will only improve with repeated viewings. If you watch the film yourself, don’t go into it expecting the stoner comedy sold by the trailers; instead, look for a character/societal study that, for all the laughs it may provide, is ultimately defined by anxiety and by that gnawing sense of helplessness and loss that time bestows on us all.
Until Next Time
Thank you so much for reading. As always, feel free to share your thoughts or ask questions with a comment below.
Also, this blog/my account has a new icon now. Very exciting.