Thursday, August 27, 2009

Taking Woodstock

When I posted online that I was seeing “Taking ..Woodstock..,” a few people were asking me how it was, and so ... I thought about this originally as a blog item, but it really turned out to be a full fledged review. Will add to later.

“Taking ..Woodstock..,” seen Aug. 26 in its early release in New York, is an entertaining, light take on the true story of Elliot Tiber, the proprietor of the upstate New York hotel who arranged for the legendary rock festival to come to his town after being run out of a few neighboring towns afraid of a “hippie invasion.” The movie falls a little short of being considered a four-star classic, but is a fun diversion nonetheless.

Dramatically, “Taking Woodstock” could have put a little more real conflict into Tiber’s struggles, as played by Demetri Martin, with trying to help his parents and figuring out his closeted homosexual life back in ....New York City..... The filmmakers and studio deserve credit for not wiping this aspect out of the movie entirely, although the marketing omits that, pitching the movie straight down the line as ....Woodstock.... 40th anniversary nostalgia.

Comedically, the movie sometimes turns to cartoonish slapstick in the form of Elliot’s parents, especially his mom, played by Imelda Staunton, who runs the dilapidated hotel aggressively, pinching pennies at every turn – and gets a lot of laughs in going after a couple of mobsters who attempt a shakedown when they see all the business the hotel is getting because of the festival.

Most other times, the movie’s humor comes out of little line readings here and there, and the characters’ reactions to each other. Liev Schreiber is a fun surprise as Vilma, the imposing transsexual who shows up to provide security, at the ready with a baseball bat to chase off townspeople who are angry with the Tibers for bringing the festival there.

The movie’s best scene, comedically or dramatically (maybe both), comes when Elliot’s dad, played by Henry Goodman as a weary, quiet man, tells him to go off and enjoy a little bit of the festival when it’s underway. It’s probably the one poignant, touching moment in a movie that could have had a couple more.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Montreal Comedy Festival, wrapping up

The Just For Laughs Montreal Comedy Conference had a wealth of panels and discussions of interest to comedy fans, and before closing the book on all Jester's coverage, I'd like to get just two more little pieces out there:

In a panel discussion on the history and activities of the Upright Citizens Brigade, co-founder Ian Roberts pointed to the key selling point for the theatre’s now-vast training program. “We’re not just trying to make money with endless levels of classes,” he said. “The levels that we offer are there because that’s what we have to teach.”

With so many students, not everyone can be a star, even as UCB as a training ground is spawning more and more performers who are making the leap to TV and movies, or at least producing creative web comedy. The UCB training program has even gotten some criticism of “favoritism” or “cliquishness,” Roberts said. “C’mon, why would I be out to get someone? I want the people who are good on our stage. If you’re good, you’ll be up there.”

Also in the conference, Todd Phillips director of the mega-hit "The Hangover," generously gave of his time for a one-hour conversation including a Q&A with conference participants. … A pressing question, at least for this blogger, was how such seemingly different performing styles of the three leads -- Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper all coalesced. Simply a lot of hanging out before shooting, Phillips explained:

“We would all just constantly hang out together all the time, before production,” he said. “… and figure each other out so they could see where their roles fit with the others. … That’s a crucial part of directing when you’re making an ensemble film.”