Working as an interior designer in Greenwich Village, Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin) feels empowered by the gay rights movement. But he is also still staked to the family business—a dumpy Catskills motel called the El Monaco that is being run into the ground by his overbearing parents, Jake and Sonia Teichberg (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton). In the summer of 1969, Elliot has to move back upstate to the El Monaco in order to help save the motel from being taken over by the bank.
Upon hearing that a planned music and arts festival has lost its permit from the neighboring town of Wallkill, NY, Elliot calls producer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) at Woodstock Ventures to offer his family's motel to the promoters and generate some much-needed business. Elliot also introduces Lang to his neighbor Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who operates a 600-acre dairy farm down the road. Soon the Woodstock staff is moving into the El Monaco—and half a million people are on their way to Yasgur's farm for "3 days of Peace & Music in White Lake."
With a little help from his friends, including theater troupe leader Devon (Dan Fogler), recently returned Vietnam veteran Billy (Emile Hirsch), and cross-dressing ex-Marine Vilma (Liev Schreiber)—and with a little opposition from townspeople, including Billy's brother Dan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)—Elliot finds himself swept up in a generation-defining experience that would change his life—and popular culture—forever.
Ang Lee's new film 'Taking Woodstock' is not so much about the concert itself (you never actually see anyone performing) but it's about the people who made the concert happen and how it changed their lives.
Elliot Teichberg, played by Demitri Martin, is a talented artist and interior designer, but he decides to pass up on that life and instead help his distant parents run their dilapidated motel in White Lake, New York.
Elliot is the president of the local Chamber of Commerce and holds a music and arts festival every year. With his parent's about to default on their mortgage and Elliot out of ideas, he hears of a huge concert that has just been canceled in another city. In an effort to revitalize his parent's motel and the town, Elliot goes about trying to get the concert to come to White Lake.
When the townsfolk hear that a wave of people may be arriving for this concert they fear a hippie invasion. They ostracize Elliot and curse him for bringing the scourge of the hippie nation upon White Lake.
Lee's direction is meticulous. Each and every shot has the feeling of a master director at work. The traffic jam scenes with people weaving in and out of cars by the hundreds are amazingly choreographed. Never can I remember a film with so many extras in the background doing so many specific activities (sidenote: I'm pretty sure 'Taking Woodstock' sets the record for the number of nude extras). Once the people start arriving the entire film turns into a sort of controlled chaos. The interesting thing is it seems that with the thousands and thousands of people arriving, no one is really acting out. Love and friendship abound and it infects the once cautious townspeople and the police force.
Martin's portrayal of Elliot is one of quiet comedy. For the most part he's completely deadpan in his performance. He's funny without being over-the-top, which is the definition of his comedic style.
Since we never actually see any of the concert or performers, the film must be about something else, and indeed it is. Elliot's life changes and his relationship with his once distant parents grows closer. The peace and love brought with the ever-increasing Woodstock crowd truly does infect everyone around.
I really enjoyed 'Taking Woodstock.' Ang Lee delivers another masterful film about real human beings instead of outrageous caricatures. It's fun, it's heartwarming, and it's full of love maannnnn…three days of peace and love.
'Taking Woodstock's 1080p transfer is solid, but at times a little underwhelming. The film does take on a softer focus, which is clearly a directorial choice for this 60s period piece. At times the movie exhibits stunning clarity, for example as Elliot overlooks the clean up effort after the concert. Where the film wavers a little is during the darker scenes. Shadows gobble up characters. At one point Elliot's father comes enters his room to talk to him. As his father stands by the door he's engulfed in a bottomless shadow that leaves part of his head and his arm seemingly suspended in air. I'm sure that the choice of a softer focus leads to these more hazy and undefined shadows, but they can be distracting.
Daytime scenes, however, have exceptional clarity, and colors abound. The lush green of the surrounding White Lake wilderness is the most dominant color. The greens are never overpowering though. They are presented deep and rich, giving us an idea of how beautiful it must have been to be there. When Elliot takes an acid trip with a couple of hippies in a van, neon colors burst off the screen. Artifacts, DNR, and noticeable edge enhancement keep their ugly faces hidden. The print is very clean, without a single speck or blip showing up as far as I noticed.
For a movie about, arguably, the most famous concert ever, it contains little music. The DTS-HD Master Audio is largely a front-centric presentation with this dialogue heavy film. That's not to say the film doesn't have a decent engrossing feeling though. The entire film makes you feel like you're surrounded by a crowd of hippies. Once they start arriving there's a steady stream of ambient noise from the surround channels. One of the striking aspects of the soundtrack is music echoing in the distance. Elliot never makes it to the concert, but subtle concert sounds travel over the hills and into the surround speakers making you feel like there could be a concert going on down your street.
The dialogue is presented clearly through the front channels. Directionality is tested as helicopters swoop in and out of frame. 'Taking Woodstock's audio presentation isn't the rock-your-house type, but it's a very solid presentation full of tiny nuances that will please audiophiles.
"Elliot and Jackson Discuss 'Three Sisters'"
"Elliot and His Father Commiserate"
"Elliot Takes Verbal Abuse from Townspeople"
"Elliot Prepares for the Press Conference"
"Michael Opens Bank Account with Bag of Money"
"Money Will Fall from the Sky"
Most of these scenes, you can tell, were cut for pacing reasons. The scene where Michael walks into the bank with a bag of money to open up an account is especially incongruent with the rest of the film and would have bogged it down in the long run.
'Taking Woodstock' is an enjoyable little 60s period film. It has some interesting and lovable characters. The film is about how Woodstock changed the people involved in making the event happen. This release has solid (but not showstopping) video, good audio, and some nice extras. Recommended.