Thursday, September 10, 2009

Taking Wood Review


Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, Taking Woodstock carries us out of summer on a breeze. The movie scenes float along from one place to the next like a leaf in a soft wind, changing direction, destination unknown. That's how I felt during the two hours I spent in the theater. Ang Lee’s direction with the story was too relaxed and uneven to hold one's interest for too long; a definite slow go from beginning to end.

The film starring Comedy Central comedian Demetri Martin focuses not on the festival itself (the view of the stage is a few second blip of it from a distant hill while on explicit drugs), but on Martin's non-fictitious character Elliot Teichberg, author of the book that inspired the movie. He played a big part in making Woodstock happen after the festival's permit was revoked from a neighboring area.

Elliot’s character is timid and submissive, lacking that certain spark to make him the main shining star of the movie. The festival's behind-the-scenes headquarters is Elliot's parents' rundown motel, whose rooms are turned into offices and the pool transformed into a hippie watering hole. The story focuses on Elliot's experience with helping to make Woodstock happen, as well as how it unchains him from his parents and allows him to be more true to himself.

A bright pattern in the mangled tapestry that is Taking Woodstock is newcomer Jonathan Groff, who plays the festival's organizer Mike Lang. When Groff stepped out of the car for the first time donning a leather vest and long brown curls my mind was racing wondering why I didn't know Andy Samberg was in the movie. As seconds ticked by I corrected my mistake and became intrigued by Groff's character. His performance was mellow, almost too mellow, and I was waiting for the time in the movie where he makes everyone drink the kool-aid and end the movie. At least that would make the film interesting. Just when you were becoming curious as to what happened to Mike Lang, he would reappear, riding profoundly into the shot either on a horse, car, or cart.

Emile Hirsch delivers his character admirably. He has returned to live with his parents from Vietnam and has vivid flashbacks of the war while trying to adjust to all the love and peace of the festival. Liev Schreiber's ex-Marine character is a gun toting' cross dresser, hired on to be the motel's security. The recreation of 1969 in artistic style was credible but the speech wasn't. I couldn't tell whether Demetri Martin was meaning to make the phrase “far out” that awkward or not.

Taking Woodstock has an unformed and unorganized feel to it. You only know when the festival officially starts when you hear the echo of distant music from miles away. Bands and artists are not even an object in the movie. Ang Lee did a great job making Woodstock seem uninteresting. The movie needed more direction instead of jumping from event to event without an ending goal. There is no finished portrait to Taking Woodstock and some of that could be blamed on the absence of music and Demetri Martin's stiff performance.

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