“Taking Woodstock” Offers Nothing New

“Taking Woodstock” Offers Nothing New (photo)

Posted by on

Apparently determined to tackle every cinematic genre known to man, Ang Lee has thus far given us his take on the popular-lit adaptation (“Eat Drink Man Woman”), the classic-lit adaptation (“Sense and Sensibility”), the Civil War western (“Ride With the Devil”), the wuxia action flick (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), the Marvel comic-book summer tentpole (“Hulk”), the WWII espionage thriller (“Lust, Caution”) and, of course, the gay cowboy weepie (“Brokeback Mountain”).

It was inevitable, I suppose, that he would eventually get around to the historical docudrama — or, as I’ve recently dubbed that generally useless collection of bullet-point factoids, the Wiki-movie. Technically, “Taking Woodstock” was adapted from key organizer Elliot Tiber’s memoir of the same title; with the exception of some laborious anecdotes involving Tiber’s Russian immigrant parents, however, you can find pretty much every detail of the movie in Wikipedia’s tidy entry on the fabled concert, assuming that you don’t know most of that stuff already. If this film winds up being all that remains after a nuclear holocaust, it’ll be a valuable document. Otherwise, zzz.

A big part of the problem is that Tiber, played here by “Daily Show” correspondent Demetri Martin, didn’t really do much of anything — certainly nothing that required extensive dramatization. He was a civic-minded young music lover who, when he heard that a proposed extravaganza featuring many of his favorite bands was on the verge of being canceled for lack of a venue, used his position on the Bethel, NY city council to wrangle the necessary permit, originally intended for a concert of chamber music. He also put the promoters in touch with nearby dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who rented out 600 acres for the event. Tiber’s family ran a cruddy little motel, which the Woodstock staff booked in toto; Tiber therefore had to run around changing the sheets and creating smaller mini-rooms (using dividers) to handle the overflow.

Sound scintillating? If it’s a recreation of Woodstock itself you seek, forget it — like Tiber, we see the stage only from a faraway hilltop, at a distance so great that the music isn’t even audible. And there just isn’t anything even marginally interesting about the behind-the-scenes machinations of one two-bit hustler. Martin plays Tiber as an amiable nebbish, practically devoid of personality; it barely registers when he comes out of the closet towards the end of the movie, inspired by the liberation he sees all around him, as the character hadn’t been anything more than a generic plot motor prior to this emotional epiphany. To keep the film from flatlining, Lee and his regular screenwriter, James Schamus, are forced to resort to goofy, mostly unfunny comedy, courtesy of Imelda Staunton as Tiber’s outrageously greedy/stingy mom and Liev Schreiber as a hulking transvestite with a pistol strapped to his upper thigh, who volunteers to be head of security.

08252009_TakingWoodstock2.jpgMostly, though, the experience of watching “Taking Woodstock” — at least for anyone not recently attached to a placenta — amounts to ticking off items from a checklist of “well, duh” expectations. You sit there waiting for the roads into Bethel to be jammed by barefoot hippies, for heavy rains to turn Yasgur’s field into a giant mud pit and, inevitably, for Lee to employ the same split-screen effect that Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker used when editing Michael Wadleigh’s documentary “Woodstock.”

It’s the kind of movie in which you know the acid just kicked in because the background suddenly goes all smeary-psychedelic; the kind of movie in which you’re prompted to chortle with retroactive knowingness at a promoter’s assurance that an upcoming Rolling Stones show will surely be a nonstop groovy lovefest. (Get it? Altamont!) It’s Ang Lee’s lamest movie ever, but at least he has it out of the way now. Bring on the musical.

Watch More

Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

Watch More
Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

Posted by on

End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

Watch More

Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

Watch More
Powered by ZergNet