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Movies: Startup.com and Moulin Rouge

Saw both Startup.com and Moulin Rouge this weekend, and much preferred the former to the latter. Start.com is a documentary about two ambitious young entrepreneurs who decide to start a Internet-based business during the heyday of the "Dotcom revolution". Now, having gone through the dotcom wringer myself (I spent three years at Amazon, starting in 1999), I expected to find little of interested here, but focus of the film isn't on the operation of the business but of the hopes, dreams and schemes of the founders. In fact, the first half of the film takes place even before the company gets off the ground, showing the two guys hustling for VC (Venture Capital) and fantasizing about being billionaires. By the time they finally scrape together the necessary funds and launch their site (the now defunct govworks.com -- uh, I kinda gave away the ending, there), they are already getting trounced by a competitor and at each other's throats.

I don't know what the arrangement was between the founders and the documentarians, but the filmmakers are present at some very personal meetings and critical junctures. But the portrait painted of the two men, while sympathetic, doesn't pull many punches: we not only see them at the top of their game, but also at their most arrogant, irrational and stubborn. It's the focus on the people. and the well-rounded approach at presenting them, that make this one of the best documentary's I've seen in a spell.

Moulin Rouge, on the other hand, I could have done without. Now, I should begin by saying that had I seen it in a crowded theater I would undoubtedly have a much more favorable opinion. But watching it, alone with my wife on a tiny TV screen, the whole thing seems a bit gaudy (which I guess was the point, but still). Despite the fact that the film is set in 1900, the entire story is told via contemporary songs: Madonna, Nirvana, The Beatles, etc. I had known this in advance and the whole thing sounded a little silly to me, but while watching it I found myself ultimately disappointed at how few songs they actually used. Really, if you're going to build a movie around a gimmick like that, better to go whole hog, I say. The remainder of the plot -- which was so dog-eyed that they essentially parody themselves within the film -- was too campy to take seriously and too maudlin to laugh at. And I have long known that I had a violent aversion to any live-action film which employs cartoon sound effects.

I though Moulin Rouge was moderately entertaining, but I'd stop shy of recommending it. But how it got nominated for Best Motion Picture, while Startup.com was overlooked in the category of "Best Documentary" is beyond me.

Posted on March 11, 2002 to Movies