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“Taking Woodstock” {Blu-ray}-(Wayne)
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Universal Home Video
Genre:
Drama
Release Date:
12/15/09
Special Features:

“Peace, Love and Cinema”, deleted scenes, commentary track by director Ang Lee and writer James Schumas

Review:

Ang Lee lost his mojo when he made “Hulk” and it’s been a hard road to regain it. "Brokeback Mountain" was a step in the right direction for Lee and "Taking Woodstock" while it find his mojo at full power it does give him some good material to sink his teeth into. "Taking Woodstock" may not be the perfect follow up to "Brokeback Mountain" but it is a worthy diversion until Lee's next project. Although flawed with a sprawling narrative that takes away too much focus from Elliot Tiber the main character of this film, "Taking Woodstock" deftly combines humor and drama in a glimpse back before multi-national corporations could undercut the world economy thorugh foolish and poorly thought out decisions to a time where people thought they could actually make a difference in the world by protesting and standing up for what in their counter-culture view was right. ***

Based on the book of the same name by Elliot Tiber “Taking Woodstock” is as much about the personal odyssey of Tiber as it is about the organization of the festival. Elliot (Demetri Martin) just barely manages to keep his parents motel afloat in his position on the Chamber of Congress. When he gets the chance to lure a music festival to the land by his the motel he jumps at it. The promoter of the festival Michael Lang(Jonathan Groff) rejects the area as not appropriate for his show and Elliot convinces Lang to contact dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy)and move his show there which would still benefit the area. Elliot, Yasgur and Lang have no idea what they are in for as the Woodstock Festival takes root and grows beyond their wildest expectations. ***

The screenplay by James Schamus cleverly integrates real events that we saw in Michael Wadleigh’s film “Woodstock” along with what Elliot amusingly chronicles in his book including the difficult time that Elliot and Lang faced in launching the festival. He also does a great job portraying how Elliot discovers that he is gay with Elliot’s coming out an integral part of the story. The film could become heavy handed and lose much of its humor if not for the terrific cast in key supporting roles including Live Schreiber as a transvestite (!) and Emile Hirsch as a touched Vietnam Veteran. The main flaw in the film also manages to be the main reason for being interested in the film—the character of Elliot, his conflict with his homosexuality, his struggle to keep the festival from falling apart and to relieve the financial issues that face his parents IS center stage but lacks the necessary heft to keep pus interested particularly with the legendary show that threatens to burst at the seams as it takes on a life of its own. The other flaw is that Lee becomes obsessed with showing the details of the Woodstock show in depth which truly does compete with Elliot’s story vs. dovetailing nicely with it. As a result, Elliot’s story kind of gets lost in the process. Nevertheless, “Taking Woodstock” gets more right than wrong and is a worthwhile “trip” to take. ---

Image & Sound:

“Taking Woodstock” looks every bit as colorful and detailed as the posters from the era—colors pop and detail is remarkably sharp throughout. Skin tones are perfect for the film and even scenes such as Elliot’s LSD trip look stunning. ***

Audio puts you right in the heart of the Woodstock show and Danny Elfman’s marvelous score sounds quite nice in its lossless presentation here.

Special Features:

We get an intelligent, involving commentary track from Lee and Schamus discussing the challenges of recreating the event and how they adapted the source material. ***

“Peace, Love and Cinema” is a standard behind-the-scenes featurette. We also get deleted scenes as part of the package. ---

Final Words:

Although “Taking Woodstock” doesn’t find Lee returning to form, it’s a marked improvement over other films he has made over the years. “Taking Woodstock” IS superficial but it’s not really about the event (even though the event overwhelms the personal story) but about Elliot’s journey of discovery.

 

 
 
 
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