Weekly Trailer Round-Up

The Descendants – B+: It is really gratifying to have a new Alexander Payne film coming out this year. There is nothing really revelatory about the trailer, but this still manages to look wonderful headed by reliably subdued work by George Clooney.

50/50– B+: 50/50 looks like a solid balance of comedy and drama, headed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who is so adept at both. He and Rogen look like they will have great chemistry.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – C+: Guillermo del Toro’s involvement has me interested, but my reaction to this was the same as my reaction to the teaser; indifference. It does not look necessarily bad, but nothing about it stands out. The little CGI seen looks somewhat poor.

The Whistleblower – B-: My hope is that this film does not fit quite as succinctly into the political thriller mode as the trailer makes it look. Anything that brings attention to this issue, even if through a conventional thriller (to call human trafficking a ‘problem’ is the biggest understatement you’ll ever see on this blog), is a good thing. However, from a cinematic perspective, this looks a bit too cliched to be anything outstanding. Hopefully, it can prove me wrong.

The Smurfs 3D– F: This is the first F I have given since writing these short trailer sound-ups. I say this with all seriousness: I would watch Zookeeper over this any day of the week. This looks like bottom-of-the-barrel filmmaking, if we can even call it that. On The AV Club’s Directors You Didn’t Know You Hated installment of Inventory, they cite director Raja Gosnell. Along with the upcoming Smurfs, he is also responsible for directing Big Momma’s House, Scooby-Doo and its sequel and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The comedy here looks about as lazy as it gets. Children clearly deserve better than this. After seeing this, I will bet that the most average of children’s films will seem like a breath of fresh air. Neil Patrick Harris looks particularly annoying. Hank Azaria as Gargamel looks appropriate cartoonish, and thus, moronic. The Smurfs themselves do not blend in at all, and they seem more annoying than anything else here. The amount of times “Smurf” is injected into their vocabulary is grating. Just because they make a joke about it, does not mean you will not have to listen to their repetitive ‘Smurf’ lingo. And as if you need another reason to not see The Smurfs, Katy Perry is voicing Smurfette. Oh. My. Smurf.

I Don’t Know How She Does It-D-: Again, I say this with all seriousness; I would rather watch Zookeeper. I get that this is going to appeal to busybody women who want to feel appreciated for all the running around they do. Nothing wrong with that. Having Sarah Jessica Parker doing Sex and the City narration complete with breaking the fourth wall does not help. It really looks like she will just be her zany self, running around for about ninety minutes. Why would I want to watch this?

Happy Feet Two 3D – F: Oh boy. The second F of this week. For the third time; I would rather see Zookeeper. Poor poor “Mama Said Knock You Out”. You have been unfairly destroyed in less than a minute. I am not sure I have seen a worse teaser than this. Ever. I have never seen Happy Feet. I never care to see Happy Feet. The teaser is loud, crowded, nonsensical, obnoxious, a little bit creepy and completely bewildering.

John Carpenter’s The Ward – C+: This, like so many horror trailers, looks completely forgettable but totally watchable.

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front – B+: This is one of my most anticipated docs of the year. This looks like it will have an excellent insight into eco-terrorism, balanced with a humanistic approach that offers no easy answers. That makes me more excited about it, docs that are too broad can become easily problematic. That it is called “A Story” as opposed to “The Story” makes me hopeful that this will live up to my expectations.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – A+: This is, for my money, the best trailer of the year so far. I really enjoy this book (much less crazy about the final two installments). The Swedish film left me largely unimpressed, but Noomi Rapace’s spectacular performance alone had me against a US interpretation. By the time Rooney Mara was cast as opposed to a big name, and David Fincher on board as director, my opinion had completely turned around on this project. My initial worry that the film would tone down the more brutal and disturbing aspects of the film look to be untrue by the feel of this teaser. Can I just say how happy I am that Fincher is getting back to the kind of material he is most comfortable with? My adoration with The Social Network aside (as well as my very conflicted feelings towards Curious Case of Benjamin Button), this pessimistic world of violence and grime is where he is at home. By the looks of it, he has wasted no time with this teaser, showing us that he is coming back with a bang. His visual motifs look right at home in Stieg Larsson’s world. The Trent Reznor/Karen O “Immigrant Song” cover is just as sick and fierce as one would hope. The tagline rules. Craig and Mara look perfect from the little we can see of them. And Entertainment Weekly’s observation that the teaser lines up chronologically with the story looks to be pretty much correct from what I can tell. This is going to be far from an easy watch, but if Fincher’s vision holds up, it’ll be more than worth it.

Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World – D: The one thing I like about this trailer is that kids this young are never really given key roles in children’s action adventure films of this scale. They are almost always several years older. So in a way, I think it’s nice that kids this young can be front and center instead of the protagonists’ being 12 and up. That being said, this looks like it should be straight-to-DVD fodder. I am still trying to figure out why there was a Spy Kids 2. Oh yeah; money. This looks awful.

Review: Passion Play (2011, Glazer)

Back in April, Mickey Rourke made a brutally unhinged comment about two of his upcoming films, Passion Play and 13. He called them both ‘terrible’. Naturally, this sparked curiosity on just how bad the former, Mitch Glazer’s straight-to-DVD directorial debut would be. Is it terrible? In a word, yes. Yes, it is terrible. Passion Play is so misguidedly earnest that it garners the kind of response one has when a toddler tries to walk but is not quite ready. ‘Oh, look at him trying to walk! Isn’t that sweet!’ has been replaced with ‘Oh, look at him trying to make a film! Isn’t that…oh…’ Bogged down in painful noir clichés and rote sentimentality, Passion Play has enough unintentional laugh-out-loud moments that will hurdle it into turkey infamy.

Rourke plays Nate Poole, a down-on-his-luck trumpeter who is in some trouble with gangster Happy Shannon (Bill Murray), after sleeping with Shannon’s wife. Narrowly escaping death (he is saved by random snipers, who are never explained) Nate finds himself at a traveling circus where he meets Lilly (Megan Fox), a woman with wings. She has been brought up by Sam (Rhys Ifans), who runs the circus. Nate and Lilly apparently have enough of a connection in one conversation to escape the clutches of Sam and run off together. Nate secretly plans on exploiting her with Shannon in exchange for his life. As the two enter a relationship, Nate regrets his betrayal and sets out on saving Lilly from the predicament he has put her in.

The weakest element of Passion Play is the script. For all the inertness of the film, the amateurish and nonsensical script is where the films disastrous seed was sown. For starters, the plot is thoroughly implausible, never making us forget how ridiculous its base concept is. Another filmmaker could have scrapped the script, started with the concept and created something delightfully weird and bizarre. Instead, we get a film that takes itself so seriously, clearly believing it has crafted an engaging modern-day fable. The feeling that Glazer was really trying hard to make something good out of a script he clearly believes in, makes the film so awkward to watch. It is sad that anybody, including Glazer who wrote it, would take this script seriously.

Conversations begin with lines like “Have you ever seen the ocean?” Yeah; it’s that bad. The connection between Nate and Lilly is in no way convincing. Let us put aside the fact that we are supposed to buy Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox as two people who fall in love. The way their relationship comes about is too abrupt, feeling about as realistic as Lilly’s wings. How are we supposed to care about these two when Nate is scheming against Lilly during most of their scenes together? Instead of crafting a tale of redemption, the film never points out the moment when Nate’s regret starts to seep in, leading us to believe that it is only when the two sleep together (yes there is a love scene, complete with Rourke fondling Fox’s wings) that he feels differently about her. And if that is the case, Nate comes off as even more of a sad-sack schmuck than at the start of the film.

There is blatant awkwardness throughout, whether from the acting, dialogue or direction. So much of the film is oddly staged, as if we are looking in on an underworked rehearsal. Some of the beats between lines of dialogue do not feel natural. The same goes for the timing between certain shots. There is something entirely off-kilter about a lot of Passion Play, and there are times when Glazer cannot execute simple scenes. For an example of this, look to the early scene with Rourke and Ifans in his abode. Scenes like this come around about once every ten minutes that force the audience to contemplate the mere existence of this film.

Mickey Rourke is clearly coasting here. His worn-out face allows him to fit into these types of roles very easily. Sometimes his heart is in it, sometimes it is not. He cannot even pretend to play the trumpet correctly, in one of the film’s laugh-out-loud scenes. Megan Fox clearly wants to be taken seriously here, but she has chosen the wrong film for it. She is just there to look stunning, doing little to negate the notion that her character is just an object for others to gawk at. The film is using Fox the same way Happy Shannon, Sam and Nate all try to use her. It is hard to take Fox seriously when she is stuck in a constant state of crying gullibility. With Fox, Passion Play becomes a maudlin Victoria’s Secret commercial, complete with wings.

Finally, Bill Murray as a gangster sounds inspired, and admittedly he comes closest to an actual performance. Yet he is coasting as well, relying on his usual droll line deliveries to come off as menacing due to the content of the dialogue. For a perfect example of Rourke and Murray coasting, watch the scene in which Rourke makes his proposition to Murray during lunch. Neither looks like they want to be there. It is all too easy to picture them sitting around and waiting for action to be called so the scene can creep all too willingly towards completion.

What is good about Passion Play? Well, there is some typically wonderful photography by Christopher Doyle, the film’s only saving grace. Passion Play may just seem like a merely terrible film while watching it, with occasional moments of so-bad-it’s-funny moments. But the film’s leap into infamy is made concrete in its final minutes, which needs to be seen to be believed. Hint; there is flying involved.

Weekly Screening Log: May 20th-26th

169. Mad Max (1979, Miller): D+

170. Sans Soleil (1983, Marker): A+

171. Seance (2000, Kurosawa): B+

172. Great Expectations (1946, Lean): B+

173. The Freshman (1925, Taylor & Newmeyer): C+

174. A Hard Day’s Night (1964, Lester): B-

175. Last Tango in Paris (1972, Bertolucci): A-

176. It’s a Gift (1934, McLoed): B+

177. Red Riding Hood (2011, Hardwicke): D

178. Unknown (2011, Collet-Serra): B

180. The Roommate (2011, Christiansen): D-

181. Incendies (2011, Villeneuve): A

182. Passion Play (2011, Glazer): D-

Weekly Trailer Round-Up

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop – B: My boyfriend got to see this at IFFBoston, while I had to miss it due to class. Both of us attended O’Brien’s tour, making this of particular interest. The film looks like a satisfying combination of entertainment and insight.

A Little Help – D: This is the kind of domestic indie drama I cannot abide by. Nothing here feels genuine and it comes complete with ‘indie’ dramedy font. Fischer will lose her husband, struggle to find her own way and mark out a relationship with her son. There will be plenty of ups and downs and the film will end on a moment of hope. There you go. Film seen.

Take Shelter – A: Recently screened at Cannes, this is one of my most anticipated films of the year. Inner psychological torment mixed with eerie atmosphere and bigger-scale visuals looks to be a winning mix. Shannon’s predicament seems similar to his in Bug, a film I love, making this an even more exciting release.

The Muppets – B+: A really clever trailer which shows, in its short footage of the Muppets, that the humor will stay very much inline with the type of meta-jokes they were known for. I am so nervous and excited for this one; the Muppets mean a lot to me.  They have been so misused in recent years by Disney.  Jason Segel seems to appreciate what they once were, so I have hope. Also, it is hard to imagine this not working in a theater.

Salvation Boulevard – C-: This trailer it waaaaay too scattered to feel coherent. It may be going for a zany, wacky satirical vibe, but this too muddled for any of that to really come through.

The Perfect Age of Rock ‘N’ Roll – C: There is something so purposefully dour about this; it so badly wants us to care. I am not sure I do. Everyone involved is clearly trying, but it I did not finish the trailer feeling like I needed to spend two hours with this story.

Review: The Double Hour (2011, Capotondi)

Originally posted on Criterion Cast on May 17th, 2011

Plot twists are inherently risky. Over recent years, they have become much more complicated. Certain genres, like horror or thriller, naturally invite the convention to the point where inclusion instantly subjects the film to a battle with predictability. Mostly, the risk comes from the chance taken on losing the audience. Will the twist enhance or muddle the films intentions? Will the audience go along for the ride or will they disengage themselves? The Double Hour, the Giuseppe Capotondi’s debut film, shows promise, but loses itself within its labyrinthine twists.

A plot description for The Double Hour begs vagueness to keep this review relatively spoiler-free. Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport), a hotel maid who is somewhat withdrawn and solitary, attends a speed-dating event. She meets Guido (Felippo Timi) , an ex-cop and widower. They start up a relationship and everything is going well, until they are subject to a home invasion robbery that results in…well, you will have to find out yourself. Other figures in the plot are Sonia’s co-worker Margherita (Antonia Truppo), hotel regular Bruno (Fausto Russo Alesi) and detective Dante (Michele de Mauro).

As for the inner workings of The Double Hour, it is apparent the story was carefully considered outside its plotted nature. Through the twists and turns, a character-driven exploration of one person’s guilt is meant to be examined through the enhanced perspective said twists offer. There are moments when that deepened sense of guilt comes through nicely. The complex ambiguity of Sonia pays off as often as it does not. Yet the film gets lost, and everything is eventually stifled and fruitless. By the end, character development is suffocated by the complicated plot, when it is meant to have the opposite effect.

Theoretically, the twists force the audience to go back and rethink through the film, allowing for deeper and deeper examination of Sonia. The first twist changes what we think of Sonia thus far as we are asked to reshape our perception of her. The second twist is meant to do the same; enhance character development through the revelation. It is different from the first twist because Sonia and the audience learn it at the same time whereas Sonia is in on the initial twist. It is a jarring and risky move in which now Sonia and the audience have to, again, entirely reconfigure how the new situation at hand. The attempted leap falls short, making the film’s entire conceit unsatisfying. It also provides one simple explanation for a hell of a lot of intrigue it sets up, coming off as a cop-out, even though the middle section of the film would admittedly work better on a second viewing.

The Double Hour does not take enough of a stance in genre. It is rarely a detractor if a film does not line up cozily with a genre; in fact I welcome it. It is a detractor when the material is not strong enough to tell the story it wants to. It made me wish it threw itself much more heartily into its thriller origins so it had a grip on something specific. It dips its toes into many genres for a short period of time, but backs off too soon to establish anything of worth.

Finally, there is perhaps the central reason The Double Hour underwhelms and the main catalyst for the twists’ failures. The romance at its center is flat and uninspired despite the chemistry between the two leads. Both Sonia’s character development and the romance between her and Guido need to work in order for the twists to make have the intended impact. The former is moderately strong and the latter is too little too late. Without a relationship the audience is invested in, it becomes difficult to care, especially in the final third.

The only truly palpable reason to see The Double Hour, despite it being engaging enough to merit a look, is for Kseniya Rappoport’s performance. She makes the film almost single-handedly gripping. She is morose, racked with guilt, has hidden agendas and is appropriately vague in her emotions.

The twists in The Double Hour are too much, and the story becomes less and less investing as the film heads towards the end of its runtime. It does not do nearly enough in most aspects to have the kind of impact it strives towards. There is a lot of talent in Capotondi, but this is too unpolished, too undercooked to truly recommend as a whole. Remnants of a recommendation come mainly because of the beguiling performance from Rappoport.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up

This was definitely a light and disappointing week in trailers.

Horrible Bosses – C+: This looks pretty inane, but the main reason for my willingness to eventually sit through it is the presence of both Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell, who look like they are having fun. There are certainly hints of black comedy here, but in plot, not tone, where it counts. Hopefully it goes further down that road than I expect it to.

Fright Night – C: May I ask how the hell this trailer manages to last two and a half minutes and only feature one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of David Tennant, who is playing the Roddy McDowall character in this remake? This looks like it has very little of the humor of the original (which I am not much of a fan of in the first place). It also looks like it might be hard to buy Farrell in this role.  There are a few reasons I am holding onto indifferent hope here. One is that Marti Noxon is credited for the screenplay. The other is that Craig Gillespie is directing. Lastly, this is a pretty solid cast. We’ll just have to see.

Straw Dogs – C-: Honestly, if this grade reflected my thoughts on the existence of this remake, it would be an F-. Yes, an F-. This C- should serve as evidence that this trailer was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It looks like they are falling back on the original more than I expected, which is better than them taking the name and telling a story that vaguely resembles Peckinpah’s original. To put it plainly though; this. film. should. not. have. been. touched. But it’s happening, whether we like it or not. The casting of the leads is dull as fuck. Alexander Skarsgaard’s presence is always a good thing. I don’t really have much to say. I was expecting disaster; the result is something that has the potential to be passable, but no matter what the level of work, its very existence makes it involuntarily dreadful.

Zookeeper – D- : Hmm. It is hard to know what to say about Zookeeper. This kind of film was not made for me, and I am sure many who see it will enjoy themselves. Trying to bank on the success of Night at the Museum and Kevin James’ previous vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop, this will probably make a considerable amount of money. Rosario Dawson. Rosario, Rosario, Rosario. Sigh. The Talking Heads usage just made me a little sad. Although, since I cannot recall “Wild Wild Life” being used in other trailers, it was a welcome change to the endless list of played-out songs that can commonly be found here. There is one thing I will say for this film. Casting Nick Nolte as a talking gorilla is GENIUS. Hence the D- instead of an F.

The Adventures of Tintin – B-: I am very excited for The Adventures of Tintin, more for the screenwriters involved than for Spielberg. This was an underwhelming teaser, that did not entice me to want to see more, the way teasers are supposed to. It  is just sort of there. Nothing great, nothing bad. Hopefully the trailer will entice more from me than unwanted indifference.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff – B: This is one of my most highest anticipated films of the summer. Jack Cardiff is one of the all-time great cinematographers. This looks like it will be a purely celebratory tribute to the man, and that is exactly what I am looking for in this case.

Page One: Inside the New York Times – B: A fascinating topic that hopefully assumes we are all somewhat aware about the state of journalism, as opposed to using it as an introduction to the hard facts.  I am banking on this being well-done, but the question is; will it be as meaningful and insightful as it clearly wants to be? Hard to tell from the trailer.

Buck – B+: This documentary is yet another of the docs I am highly anticipating. It looks like the kind of inspiring story I can actually get behind and want to engross myself in. The way others relate with other animals is something that greatly interests me. It is part of the reason Project Nim is my favorite film of the year so far.

Octubre – B: Really liking the purposely off-kilter nature of the trailer. Even though there is no indication as to what the it is about, this left me wanting to know a bit more.

Saviors in the Night – C: This does not looks like it stands out in any way from the many WWII-era films. The tagline at the end is way too overstated, just like the rest of this trailer.

Thunder Soul – B-: While this comes off more like a reality show special than a documentary film, I definitely want to see this, especially to learn about the original incarnation of the band. Overall, this looks like a fun time.

The Road to Nowhere – C-: This trailer is telling me I should be really excited about this film coming out. But outside of Hellman’s involvement, nothing here pops at all. The trailer takes the ambiguous route which can only work when the images are compelling, leaving us wanting more; this does not.

The Ledge – C-: We get way too much set-up here, telling us not only why Hunnam is on the ledge but giving us all of the backstory leading up to it. Gives away too much and looks mundane and rote to boot.

The Trip – A: Having seen The Trip, the trailer is somewhat unrepresentative, but aren’t they all? Smartly puts an emphasis on what we know of Coogan and Brydon’s personalities. Banter will be ever-present as will impersonations. It does not, and probably for the best, go into the more uncomfortably self-reflexive elements of the film. It also misrepresents itself as ‘the trip of a lifetime’. In fact, its the opposite. Nothing out-of-the ordinary happens in the entire film. The ‘my name’s Michael Caine’ and ‘Gentlemen to bed!’ scenes are the highlights and it also smartly shows each of these. Excellent work. Love this film.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – A+: When trailers like this come around, it reminds us how predictable most trailers are nowadays. This causes us to realize just how predictable the films themselves are nowadays. This looks like something entirely original, telling a story that treads unfamiliar ground. Yes, it can be loosely described as a thriller, but the main character looks like a refreshing brand of unstable and the trailer’s structure thankfully gives little away. If the film is as good as this trailer, and its festival run suggests, we are for something great here. Its time for this Olson sibling to shine in the spotlight.

Green Lantern – B: Pretty much everyone who watched the first trailer to Green Lantern was majorly disappointed. While there is nothing anyone can do to make me all-out stoked for this film, I am happy to report that this new trailer is a massive improvement. It’s light on the humor, heavy on the epic scale. Sarsgaard alone is enough to get me to see this. The effects look top-notch as well.

Conan the Barbarian – F: I feel like I need to take a shower now. Not sure what else I expected from a film directed by Marcus Nespiel, but there you have it. Everything about this looks filthy and nauseating. Count me out for this one.

Colombiana – C-: Honestly, after the near-brilliance and violent exhaustion of I Saw the Devil, any vengeance themed film needs to bring something seriously new to the table to spark my interest. This looks like it will bring absolutely nothing new. Zoe Saldana kicking ass is always a good thing, and I’m happy that she has a star vehicle (she deserves it). Yet, it looks like there is nothing this has to offer.

Project Nim – A-: This is my favorite film of 2011 so far. The trailer ultimately makes a very wise choice; it only shows footage from the first half hour. This way, Nim’s story will be a surprise to all that see the film because they will not have been spoiled by a trailer that could have easily given an overview of Nim’s entire life. Unfortunately, the trailer loses all the levels of depth that the film carries and merely looks like a documentary that only works on a surface level. The film is so much more than that and while the trailer sacrifices that sense, it was the right decision.

The Future – A-: This is a film I have seen that is not entirely successful. The first half of the trailer makes everything a little too upbeat, giving it that ‘indie’ feel without acknowledging the true originality of July’s voice. The Future has a lot of humor, but it’s all very droll. Once Beach House kicks in, this trailer becomes everything I wanted the film to be. It highlights a lot of the best things about it and the feel of the song gives everything a sense of existentialist wonder that should have come through a lot more in the film itself.

The Skin I Live In – B+: This is a quick jolt of a teaser that focuses on one scene. Without a doubt, one of the most anticipated films of 2011 for most film buffs. Cannes reactions will soon give us some quotes we can all hang off of. Almodovar is delving into outright horror territory, a genre I love when it proves itself. The teaser itself really is just that; a tease. He is clearly taking some notes from Franju’s Eyes without a Face, a great personal favorite.

Final Destination 5 – B-: Something that I enjoy about the Final Destination series is how ridiculous their set-ups are. And that’s what this series is all about. They spend an awful lot of time setting up their kills, because it is all about the extreme circumstances that are wrapped up in the characters’ ‘destiny’. Their inventiveness in this regard can be quite fun and even, dare I say it, effective. They seem to know how amusing it is that this franchise has lasted as long as it has and I won’t begrudge them the fun they are having with it. Plus, Emma Bell is in it and she is great. I will take a moment here to plug Adam Green’s. Frozen. Also; Tony Todd!

Reel Steel – C-: A sci-fi variation on the boxing movie has potential, but Reel Steel looks contrived on arrival. The characters seem uninteresting, especially Jackman’s down-and-out protagonist. The kid looks tiresome and all that’s left are the robots, in which case I could just watch the new Transformers film.

Review: Project Nim (2011, Marsh) [IFFBoston 2011]

Originally posted on Criterion Cast on May 8th, 2011. http://criterioncast.com/2011/05/07/catherine-reviews-james-marshs-project-nim-iffboston-2011-review/

Beginning to write about James Marsh’s documentary Project Nim, it becomes tempting to immediately spring into all-out praise mode. Marsh approaches stories from different angles. 2008’s Man on Wire functions as a heist narrative. Project Nim is a chimpanzee biopic. Herb Terrace’s experiment was amateurish and botched from the start. By default, this allows Marsh to focus all his energies on telling Nim’s heartbreaking story, using archival footage and some very honest and candid interviews by the many people who came in and out of Nim’s life.

James Marsh clearly wants to tell stories that are special; tales that one does not hear every day. The year is 1973 and Professor Herb Terrace, a behavioral psychologist of Columbia University, wants to conduct an extended study on the potential communication between species. The idea is to take a chimpanzee and bring it up as a child. This includes no contact with its own kind, eventually teaching it sign language. He asks a woman named Stephanie LaFarge to take Nim in. She is delighted to, being the free-spirited hippie that she is, as well as a wife and mother of several children.

The problematic nature of the experiment shows itself right off the bat. It becomes clear how undeveloped the project is, and that the two people involved at this point, are coming from different directions. Herb Terrace is the straight-out villain of the piece. Marsh does not even have to try hard to mold him into this role. The archival footage, his interview footage, and the comments made from the other interviewees are more than enough to see the kind of guy Terrace is. He is media-obsessed and craves professional recognition, as well as the female researchers he works with. LaFarge develops a deep connection with Nim, as she was there from the beginning when he was taken away from his mother. She breast-feeds him and lets him become a bona-fide member of the family, much to the annoyance of her husband.

In comes Laura, a young research student whom Terrace appoints to start babysitting Nim. She creates a schedule for him to, you know, actually start using sign language (something any competent individual would have implemented from the beginning of the study). Lafarge does not want this, believing he should be let alone. Eventually, Terrace and Laura turn against LaFarge and take Nim away from her. This only takes us about twenty-five minutes into the film. It is only the first of many parts of Nim’s journey. From here on out, Nim travels from place to place and is only visited by Terrace when he has photographers with him. Since these are the only people in Nim’s life, they become all he knows, only to be repeatedly taken away. Things take a turn for the worse when the project ends, and Nim is placed in LEMSIP, a medical research facility. There is a lot that happens before, during and after LEMSIP, but I will let viewers discover this sad and amazing tale on their own.

Project Nim is structured as a biopic that allows us to be acquainted with Nim as well as understand our incapacity to truly know a wild animal. All of the action is focused around the chimp, but the film says so much more through the story it tells. It is about humanity and our need to control and manipulate everything to be more like us. It is about the incompetence of man. It is about the well-meaning individuals like Joyce Butler, who care so deeply but are powerless in the bigger picture, and those like Bob Ingersol and Dr. James Mahoney, who never give up on making a difference.

Would the study have worked if it had actually been organized or well-conceived? Questions start lingering in the mind and are brought up as the film draws to a close. Regardless of the level of competency involved, should this study have ever happened? The film takes on communication and asks what the study could have taught us. Ingersol and several others achieved something very meaningful with Nim, (which was clearly coming from both sides, not from humans misguidedly anthropomorphizing him) but not just because of the sign language; there was a deeper connection taking place. At the same time, there was no communication happening between the adults, who were supposed to understand exactly what this project was. That Nim was communicating with humans is impossible to deny, but the achievements of the project are so debatable and so poorly recorded that it can only be deemed inconclusive. Terrace, in his conception of Project Nim, fails to take into account that while chimps have human qualities, they also have ‘chimp’ qualities. This becomes a huge obstacle very early on.

Nim is a chimpanzee; not a human. He has two to six times the strength of man and does not know it. He is unpredictable and capable of just about anything. Raising Nim as a child can theoretically work when he is very young. Once he starts growing, there are so many other considerations to take into account that are damaging to both Nim, and the people around him. There are several incidents recounted in the film that prove this as we briefly tiptoe into Planet of the Apes or Monkey Shines territory.

Many documentaries have a person at its center that, by the end, one should have a sense of. That James Marsh is able to do this with every talking head is remarkable. The interview subjects in documentaries rarely stand out as individuals; our job is to get information from them. The many people who were involved with Nim all shine through as distinct personalities. Almost all of them are willing to be impressively open and honest about Nim and their experiences and regrets. That Nim changed all of their lives is all too clear; most of them get emotional at one point, and the lucidity with which they talk about Nim makes it feel like it happened much more recently than it did. The subjects are shot in front of a grey background. The camera pans left or right when they make their entrance and exit from the story, which nicely visualizes the fact that so many people went in and out of Nim’s life.

Something that stands out in Project Nim is the way all the issues addressed (communication, animal-rights issues, nature of man, power struggles, etc.) is done indirectly, and through the telling of Nim’s story. For a film that asks so many questions, it is natural to assume the film is too crowded and trying to tackle too much. But the film only directly has one goal; to tell the story of Nim through the structure of a biopic. It is through this that everything else comes naturally to light, and is evident through the events and interviews.

There is humor in Project Nim, as he is shown in suits, doing somersaults as he indulges in his affection for cats and is given joints to smoke. There is charm in seeing a chimp treated as a human that is naturally appealing and is amusing. This all gives way to despair. By the end of his story, Nim is bitterly angry and resigned. He has given his trust to humans too many times and they have let him down. In an incident late in the film, LaFarge goes to visit him at his latest location after not having seen him for many years. She can see he is not a baby anymore; he is no longer cute. He is gaunt and ragged. She says she felt no connection with him. A comment like this shows that even the humorous moments, which are entertaining and lighten the mood, mean something more. The amusement that comes with a baby chimp only prolongs the true nature of the beast. LaFarge’s visit showed her what they were dealing with right from the beginning; a wild animal. Those who see Project Nim will be heartbroken. It works on many different levels, but people will remember first and foremost the story of Nim’s unstable life. James Marsh has told an unforgettable story and Project Nim is a true accomplishment.