"Taking Woodstock" DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review (2010)

1/15/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

"Taking Woodstock"

Directed by Ang Lee, Written by James Schamus, 120 Minutes, rated R.

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

To many people, Woodstock was a revelatory experience. A festival of peace and music, a culmination of so many of the ideals that defined the late '60s, the festival took the world by storm and unexpectedly defined an entire generation. How did this festival come to be? Ang Lee and his frequent collaborator, producer/screenwriter James Schamus, use the tale of the festival's origins to convey much larger themes of self-discovery and hope.

The festival founders were in a funk in 1969--none of the mostly conservative small towns in New York wanted to deal with armies of hippies for an entire weekend, let alone their loud and unappealling music. Elliot Tiber, an interior designer from New York City currently helping to look after his parents' failing and soon-to-be foreclosed motel in White Lake, New York, seizes the opportunity and invites the Woodstock folks to hold their whole shindig there.

What followed became the biggest musical festival in our country's history.

But Lee doesn't really concern himself with Woodstock itself. Sure, the film is about the festival finally coming to be, but Lee doesn't show us a single frame of concert footage. Instead, we watch Tiber (Demetri Martin) dealing with all of the complications that come with inviting 100,000 drug-addled men and women on your land and letting them do whatever they please. Elliot has always had a hard time finding acceptance from his parents, and his experiences with the festival allow him to finally come to terms with his life.

Martin, predominately a stand-up comedian known for his absurd and sardonic humor, at first seems an odd choice for the role of Elliot Tiber. Quite surprisingly, he's able to hold his own very well, even working against such veteran performers as Emile Hirsch and Liev Schreiber, who portray a wild Vietnam vet and a transvestite security guard, respectively.

Problems arise with Lee's film due to his endless determination not to show us Woodstock as most know it--a music festival. Yes, the festival was more than that, it was about the people, the experiences, etc., and Tiber himself wasn't present at any of the musical performances, but there's a point where withholding the music stops being an artistic choice and starts being a chore to sit through. After the long and dull acid trips, the wild mud throwing and sliding, and frequent blatant references to peace, love, and introspection, you really start begging for some Hendrix to get away from it all.

Probably the best part of the film is the brief but touching sub-plot with Emile Hirsch's war veteran. Hirsch is a wildly underrated actor, and he embodies the pain and charisma of his character perfectly. Every moment he's on screen is electric and his story ultimately conveys every intended theme of the film better than the actual plot.

Lee definitely deserves some credit for taking such a massive event and capturing the mood and overall feeling so well, but "Taking Woodstock" gets so bogged down with excess and melodrama that it just can't quite succeed. At the very least, though, Lee has found a solid actor in the previously inexperienced Demetri Martin.

Grade: C-

View the trailer for "Taking Woodstock" below. What are your thoughts?

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