★★★ / ★★★★
Yaniv “Nev” Schulman’s friend and brother, Henry Joost and Ariel “Rel” Schulman, decided to make a documentary about Nev’s communication, through Facebook and occasional phone calls, with a family in Michigan. Abby, the youngest of the family, e-mailed Nev claiming that she loved his photographs so much that she decided to make a painting off one of them. Apparently, her paintings were being sold for thousands of dollars. Eventually, Nev and Megan, Abby’s older sister, began to Facebook, text, and call each other. Everything seemed to be going well; Nev was especially happy because he genuinely believed that he found someone he could be in a serious relationship with despite the fact that they haven’t met in person. However, after discovering pieces of information that did not quite add up, the trio surmised that Megan might not be telling the truth. Nev, Henry, and Rel went on a road trip to Michigan to get to the bottom of things which was tantamount to opening Pandora’s box. “Catfish” was a fascinating documentary because I was convinced that everything that was happening wasn’t real. After all, who would wait about eight months to Google someone they haven’t met in person yet had all sorts of correspondences with that person? Regardless, I went along with it because the subject matter was creepy. I had so many questions I wanted answers to such as who Megan really was, whether Abby was really a gifted child artist, and what would happen once the three got to Michigan. There were times when it got downright scary. When the New Yorkers visited a farm in the middle of the night, which Megan supposedly owned, I expected them to get caught and get shot. You just don’t drive in the middle of nowhere and spy on someone else’s land. Other times, it was just sad. Either Nev was a really good actor or Nev really did fall hard for Megan. One scene that stood out to me was when Nev decided to read to the camera some of the texts he and Megan sent each other over the course of their flirtation. It was very personal, undoubtedly hilarious, and embarrassing. There was a certain sadness to it because Nev couldn’t believe he was tricked into believing that he found a potential girlfriend. What “Megan” did was very cruel but, as strange as it sounds, I was able to emphathize with her. Indeed, the trio did meet her. The film wasn’t necessarily about a critique of Facebook, but more about the dangers of being a part of social networks over the internet and easily allowing strangers to enter our lives just because they have a profile page. Even though the filmmakers did not directly address the issue of privacy, it was obvious that we should take more precautions concerning people we choose to interact with online.
Boogie Woogie (2009)
★ / ★★★★
“Boogie Woogie,” based on the novel by Danny Moynihan, attempted to explore the many personalities of the London art scene. There was Gillian Anderson and Stellan Skarsgård as a couple addicted to purchasing art, Heather Graham as an ambitious blonde who wanted to run her own museum one day, Joanna Lumley as an older woman who was struggling to keep up with the bills so she decided to sell Christopher Lee’s valuable collection, Jaime Winstone who believed her video self-portrait was art, and Jack Huston who used his artistic persona to seduce women. Despite the many things happening in the film, Duncan Ward, the director, failed to balance the characters in a meaningful way and to convince me why it was worth investing my time to observe these colorful bunch of people. All of them were self-centered, lacked a sense of what was right or wrong, and they were proud of being predators. They were always out to outsmart each other in hopes of filling a void inside of them. They found themselves exhausted day in and day out but they couldn’t take a moment, do a bit of introspection, and perhaps to attempt to make an actual change. They left a bitter taste in my mouth and the distaste never went away. I hoped that as the film went on, my opinions of them would change but there was no redeeming factor in any of them. There was no element of surprise and I felt like there was a wall between me and the characters. Perhaps the most harmless was the girl who loved to rollerblade played by Amanda Seyfried. But even then I had no idea who she was and what she was doing in the film. Was she even interested in art? There were too many characters and not one character was fully explored, so in the end I pondered what the point of it was and couldn’t come up with any. As for the movie’s title, it referred to Piet Mondrian’s painting. The painting was rarely shown and we only saw about four characters (out of fifteen to twenty) to actually see it. And when they did comment on it, it was very shallow and their words felt meaningless. I thought the painting was the main element that could help to place the many personalities in the same room but it didn’t. In a nutshell, sitting through “Boogie Woogie” was a maddening and painful experience. It glorified money, sex, and drugs instead of attempting to explore why depending solely on these these things make up a life not worth living.
The Art of the Steal (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
“The Art of the Steal,” directed by Don Argott, focused on the struggle between what Dr. Albert C. Barnes indicated on his will regarding what would happen to his post-impressionist paintings that are currently worth over $25 billion and the Republican WASPs that controlled the city of Philadelphia. Many people, on either side, can bring up arguments about why we should or should not keep the highly valuable paintings in Dr. Barnes’ school located in the Philadelphia suburbs. But to me, the reason why the paintings should be kept at his property is as clear as day: it was stated in his will exactly what he wanted and it is unethical and immoral to not respect the person who earned the money and collected the paintings that everyone once thought were worth nothing. I loved the way the documentary was organized. Since I did not know much abour Dr. Barnes and his foundation, I was glad that the first fifteen minutes clearly explained who he was and his accomplishments. I thought it was fascinating and inspiring that Dr. Barnes came from a poor family but he put himself through school by taking jobs such as boxing. And even though he became rich due to certain medical breakthroughs he discovered, he welcomed the poor and the working class to view the paintings he collected. There was a certain poetry in the way the film eventually tackled the reason why Dr. Barnes learned to despise the rich republicans and key figures that led to the downfall of the Barnes Foundation. “The Art of the Steal” is a classic David vs. Goliath case only Goliath won in this story. By end of the movie, I did not quite know how to feel. On one hand, I thought it was empowering how Dr. Barnes was able to keep his art for so many years from money-craving individuals. On the other hand, it saddens me that people are willing to throw their morals and ethics out the window for money. The film could have been stronger if those that wanted to move the paintings to the city, even if they did not have big names, agreed to be interviewed. It would have been nice to hear their point of views and perhaps their insight could have added another layer of complexity to the issue. Ultimately, “The Art of the Steal” is a suspenseful documentary and it opened my eyes about philanthropic organizations and museums. I may not be an art connoisseur but I have a very good handle on what is right and what is wrong.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Frida” is a biopic that focuses on how Frida Kahlo emerged and evolved as an artist as well as a person who shines despite her many flaws and tragedies. Salma Hayek is simply electric; although pretty much everyone defines her for her beauty, I’ve always seen some kind of inner strength in each of her roles and I was happy that it was at the forefront in this picture. Frida’s relationship with her sister (the gorgeous Mía Maestro), husband (Alfred Molina) and father (Roger Rees) are fascinating because each of those three characters have shaped Frida’s many colorful (and very dynamic) personalities. Julie Taymor, the director, shows her audiences impressive visual effects such as when Frida’s paintings would become a real-life scene and how some real-life scenes would become paintings. I’m not at all familiar with Frida’s artwork but after watching this film, I want to look more into them because they are symbolic in the least. Now that I’m aware of what the events that prompted Frida to paint certain works, I think I’ll be able to appreciate them more. There’s a great atmosphere of culture that pervaded this film and it made me think of my own culture whenever there’s a wedding or a big gathering of some sort. Every actor is so into his or her own character and the film popped whenever they would talk about art, passion, politics and the uncertainties of life. The film then becomes more than a visual experience; it becomes a powerful emotional exprience that has a distinct resonance. However, I wish this film would’ve been entirely in Spanish (except for the scenes when the characters are in the United States). I thrown off a bit when I realized that everyone spoke in English despite living in Mexico. Also, as a Diego Luna fan, I wish he was in it more or was given more to do. Still, this is a very good (if not sometimes ordinary) biopic even though the second half could’ve been stronger by focusing on Frida as an individual instead of other characters that have more to do with politics.