+ "Our Brand Is Crisis": "Call it spin-meisters abroad," says the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman of Rachel Boynton‘s highly praised documentary about American political consultants hired by Bolivian presidential candidate Gonzalo "Goni" SÃ¡nchez de Lozada. Hoberman points out the film is a kind of sequel to 1993’s "The War Room," not the least because it features an appearance by James Carville â€” about which David Edelstein at New York writes: "It’s hard to know whether to marvel or weep when James Carville goes into his Bill Clintonâ€“meetsâ€“Looney Tunes act…the context is so morally topsy-turvy." Edelstein marvels at the "extraordinary accessâ€”bewildering access" that Boynton is given to the campaign, and sums the films lesson up as "One American ideal (representation for all) has been trumped by another (win, win, win)." David Denby of the New Yorker makes a further (and more melancholy) point:
Among other things, "Our Brand Is Crisis" is about the failure of good intentionsâ€”a potent American theme at the moment. As the movie suggests, this failure, born of American arrogance, embraces liberals as well as neocons, though the liberals, to their credit, do occasionally take responsibility for their mistakes. In a long, unhappy interview, [the film’s focus,] Jeremy Rosner, pondering the futility of his actions in Bolivia, looks like an animal eating its young.
Of this week’s Reverse Shot reviewers at indieWIRE, Michael Joshua Rowin writes that "certain moments so
perfectly capture the absurdity of the political process that if
written as fiction they would be deemed exaggeration or ham-fisted
satire"; Michael Koresky suggests that the film is "feels like more of a revelation" than a campaign doc; and Chris Wisniewski likes that Boynton doesn’t appear to show a bias. And Laura Kern at the New York Times, in a tragic blurb of a review (surely a column more could have been spared from the Oscar coverage?), proposes that "the only thing left to be desired from this momentous documentary is a reference to the size of the consultants’ paycheck â€” or their consciences."
+ "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party": How much do we love Dave Chappelle? A lot, but not enough to be prepared for the avalanche of adulation for the comedian greeting this easy-going doc, directed by Michel Gondry, about a free Bed-Stuy concert Chappelle organizes with musical guests that include Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Kanye West and the surprise reuniting of the Fugees. "The first and last thing you need to know about ‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party’ is that it’s a ’70s film," writes the New York Press‘ Matt Zoller Seitz, who’s among many who compare the film to 1973’s "Wattstax," and who shares this tidbit:
"Do you like hip hop?" Chappelle asks a 50-something white lady. "I like you," she beams.
Even Roger Ebert, while playing up his terminally sweater-vested unhipness, is charmed by what he sees as "a fairly disorganized film about a fairly disorganized concert, redeemed by the good feeling Chappelle sheds like a sunbeam on every scene." Ebert touches on the fact that the concert was filmed a little over a month after Chappelle signed his $50 million contract with Comedy Central, and suggests that "you can see those millions nagging at him. His block party seems like an apology or an amends for the $50 million, an effort to reach out to people, to protect his ability to walk down the street like an ordinary man." Manohla Dargis at the New York Times similarly sees the film as "a tantalizing sketch-portrait of the artist amid an outpouring of hard beats and soul," and points out that, compared to "Wattstax"’s overt politicizing, "Block Party" "appears fairly tame by comparison. It is and it isn’t." She sees the film as a more savvy in its portrayal of celebrity, an aspect the Village Voice‘s Ed Halter also highlights:
[W]hile the mostly black and Latino Brooklyn audience may be demographically pre-planned, it is also an act of momentary utopia; as Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots remarks to Chappelle backstage, both performers share the frequent experience of playing to audiences that don’t look like them. Unfiltered observations like these give a critical edge to what otherwise would simply be a well-crafted concert doc shot during one gently sundowning autumn day.
Stephanie Zacharek, whose long review may be the most enchanted of them all, writes that:
At a time when our country feels divided to the point of cracking, "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party" feels like a salve. It’s a defiant act of optimistic patriotism. This is what Dave Chappelle’s America looks like, and now that we get the idea, there’s no reason we can’t live in it too.
The only complaint, voiced by Dargis and by Ernest Hardy at LA Weekly, is that Gondry cuts away halfway through many of the performances, not allowing the songs to finish â€” Hardy suggests that "you can’t help but feel that it is in the unhurried, option-laden possibilities of DVD bonuses that the real Block Party lies."