Always at the Carlyle, directed by Matthew Miele, is just as shallow and forgettable as Miele's prior docs about New York landmarks, Crazy About Tiffany's and Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf's. It's slickly-edited and briskly paced, but there's not nearly enough meat on its bones because it fixates too much on which celebrities were there, what they ate and what the hotel's workers impressions of them were. Interviews with George Clooney, Condoleezza Rice, Anjelica Huston and others offer some anecdotal information, but they're trivial and there's nearly enough insight. Clooney apparently made the biggest impression on the staff. Why? Is it because of his charisma? What is charisma, for that matter? Always at the Carlyle fails to dig deeper. A waiter claims that he tasted Paul Newman's salad dressing at the Carlyle before Newman sold it on the market. So what? Rooms there can cost as much as $10,000. Again, so what? What is this doc really trying to say that didn't already know or suspect? Miele plays it too safely without asking enough thoughtful questions; his questions are as boring and inert as those questions often asked by amateur journalists like "What was it like to work with...." What about more interesting questions like, "What's being done to preserve the Carlyle as a New York landmark?" or comparing it to iconic hotels in other cities. There's a brief mention of how the Carlyle brings out many human moments, so it's too bad that Always at the Carlyle fails to capture those moments. Even at 92 minutes, this doc overstays its welcome. Good Deed Entertainment opens it at the Quad Cinema.
A far more humanist doc about New York also opens this weekend: One October. This compelling documentary captures what the thoughts and feelings of New Yorkers were back in October 2008 before Obama became President. Director Rachel Shuman follows WFMU radio host Clay Pigeon as he walks around the city to ask New Yorkers about their hopes and dreams which leads to very interesting conversations. America is supposed to be a country of the people, for the people and by the people, so kudos to Shuman and Pigeon for giving the people, including the poor, a chance to candidly speak their hearts and minds. After all, the poor and working class provide the city with much of its character and personality. Topics range from Obama to America to gentrification, poverty and more, but they're all connected in many ways, so there's nothing scattershot or rambling about this doc. It's intimate yet concurrently broad and profound. You'll even find a moment of comic relief involving condoms with political figures on them. Produced by Edward Norton, One October is a warm, lively and provocative documentary that's a must-see for all New Yorkers, young and old. It opens at Maysles Documentary Center.
Filmworker is a documentary about Leon Vitali, an actor who became Stanley Kubrick's assistant. He had various roles while on the production set, but one of his most important ones was to help preserve Kubrick's films and to have them shown with the proper colorization and lighting for newly restored prints. He knows how each scene in Kubrick's films is supposed to look and sound. Director Tony Zierra goes directly to the horse's mouth by interviewing Vitali himself. He also includes some footage from Kubrick's classic films and insightful interviews with Ryan O'Neal, Stellan Skarsgard and Matthew Modine. Much like the recent doc Leaning into the Wind, Filmworker focuses solely on its subject's work while keeping his private life, well, private. You learn that Vitali has children, but Zierra doesn't uncover anything else about his life behind-the-curtain, so-to-speak. What you do learn is a lot about Vitali's relationship with Kubrick and what Kubrick's personality was generally like. Hopefully, Vitali will receive the recognition that he rightfully deserves after more people see this film. Filmworker is ultimately a fascinating and illuminating doc. You'll never look at Kubrick film again without thinking about Leon Vitali. Kino Lorber opens Filmworker at The Metrograph.
Measure of a Man
In 1976, 14-year-old Bobby Marks (Blake Cooper) and his mother, Lenore (Judy Greer), father, Marty (Luke Wilson), and older sister, Michelle (Liana Liberato), spend their summer vacation at a cabin by a lake in Rhode Island. Michelle finds a job as a camp counselor there; Bobby, overweight and insecure, prefers not to participate in any of the typical summer activities such as swimming. He reunites with his good friend, Joanie (Danielle Rose Russell), and gets a job working for Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland). Meanwhile, Michelle flirts with a young man, Pete (Luke Benward), and Bobby has to deal with his three men who bully him. One of those bullies, Willie (Beau Knapp), is mad that Dr. Kahn fired him from his job and hired Bobby instead. There's also a subplot involving Lenore and Marty's marriage on the cusp of divorce.
There's nothing wrong with the fact that Measure of a Man follows a standard formula for coming of age dramas. Like Antoine from The 400 Blows, Bobby comes from a dysfunctional family which may have something to do with why he has low self esteem and feels innately frustrated and insecure. Dr. Kahn becomes like a father figure to Bobby while offering him kernels of wisdom. The screenplay by David Scearce has a plot that, for the most part, can be easily predicted, but that doesn't make it any less endearing thanks to a heartfelt performance by Blake Cooper. He's the film's heart and soul as well as the narrator. Whenever humanism is present, which is quite often, you find yourself ignoring the sound of the screenplay's rotating wheels.
Some of the narration works effectively while some of it unnecessarily spoon-feeds the audience. To be fair, narration is a very tricky devise as are flashbacks which the film happens to refreshingly avoid. The balance of tragedy, drama and comedy could have been strengthened with more depth in terms of the film's darker elements. Harold and Maude or Muriel's Wedding, for instance, did a much better job of seamlessly balancing comedy and tragedy. Screenwriter David Scearce and director Jim Loach's genuine humanism coupled with Cooper's talents as an actor help the audience to get inside Bobby's head and, most importantly, to care about him as a complex, relatable character. In other words, Scearce and Loach constructed the window into Bobby's head, and Cooper did a great job of opening that window. Moreover, the use of symbolism when it comes to Bobby's struggle to jump off of a diving board is quite poignant, clever and speaks louder than words.
Unfortunately, none of the other characters feel as lived-in and well-developed as Bobby's because the screenplay bites off a little bit more than it could chew. It would have been great to know more about the widowed Dr. Kahn, for instance. Some of his words of wisdom seem a bit preachy, contrived and pat. Donald Sutherland, who's always reliable as an actor, does his best to find the emotional truth of his role, but it seems as though Dr. Kahn were merely there to advance the plot because his character isn't fleshed out enough. The same can be said about a last-minute shocking revelation that comes out of left field regarding one of the supporting characters which won't be spoiled here. Although Measure of a Man doesn't come close to the brilliance of classic coming of age films like Boyhood, Harold and Maude and The 400 Blows, it's still a tender, heartfelt and endearing drama with a breakthrough performance by Blake Cooper.