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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Santa Barbara Dispatch Day Two

santa_barbara_sign.JPGMy first full day at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival proved to be both busy and well worth the time invested in watching four films. We dragged ourselves out of bed in time to score a massive caffeine dose before the 8:15AM screening of Poppy Shakespeare, which is having its US premiere at the fest after having premiered at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival last July and a run on Brit television.
The darkly comedic (emphasis on the “darkly”) film, adapted from the novel of the same name by Clare Allan, examines the institution surrounding mental health care in the UK through the eyes of N (Anna Maxwell Martin), a long-term vet of the Dorothy Fish Day Center mental health facility and Poppy Shakespeare (Naomie Harris), a former ad agency receptionist ordered to spend a month attending the day center even though she swears she’s perfectly sane. N, who’s spent the past 13 years jumping through the hoops of madness to continue receiving state benefits, is assigned to mentor Poppy who, in order to get a state lawyer to prove she’s not insane, must first prove that she is in order to receive the state benefit “mad money” that qualifies her to get the legal help she needs.

It sounds like a set-up for a comedy, and there are certainly some funny parts, but as N edges closer to normal while Poppy falls apart, the film takes on a much darker and more ominous tone. The story has the undeniable ring of truth resonating throughout — Allan herself spent 10 years in a UK mental hospital — and overall, this is one of the better independent films I’ve seen. Poppy Shakespeare serves as excellent proof of the truism that you don’t need to spend millions to make a good film; all you need is solid writing, a director who understands how to handle the material, and some great lead performances to bring it to life.
Following Poppy Shakespeare, we caught Australian stop-motion claymation flick $9.99. Based on the short stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret, the film shows us the lives of several residents of the same apartment building. Animation aside, this isn’t a kiddie-flick; the tone is dark and somewhat bleak, the stories are a little edgy, obstuse and metaphorical, and the overall effect is quite good, though I rather liked Sundance opener Mary and Max, another darkly toned claymation effort, a bit better. Still, it was well worth seeing, and the nearly sold-out fest crowd seemed to enjoy it.
Also enjoying a packed crowd was my favorite film of this fest so far, the U.S Premiere of Japanese psychological thriller Suspect X, directed by Hiroshi Nishitani. This film, which has “some American studio is going to completely maul this film in a bad remake” written all over it, had the audience literally on the edge of their seats. The script, penned by Yasushi Fukuda off a serial story by Keigo Higashino, is about a mysterious murder being analyzed for the police by icily logical superstar physicist Manubu Yukawa (Masaharu Fukuyama). When Yukawa realizes his old college friend, socially inept mathematics genius Tetsuya Ishigami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi) might be peripherally involved in the crime, he sets out to try to solve the puzzle for his own reasons. I loved every single thing about this film, from the taut direction to the well-crafted script to the performances, especially by Ttutsumi and Fukuyama, who perfectly evoke the friendship of these two men who are otherwise almost completely socially isolated by their brilliance.
There are twists, turns and moodiness that Hitchcock would have appreciated, tension that’s nearly unbearable at times, and just when you think it’s over, there’s yet another twist that brings it all home. This is a fantastic film, one of the best I’ve seen at any fest, and crowd buzz on it has been overwhelmingly strong.
We wrapped up the day with a late-night screening of the long-awaited US Premiere of Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, the reboot of popular anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, the first in the planned tetralogy Rebuild of Evangelion, which aims to reinvent the massively complex series. The first three films will essentially retell the entire series, with some new characters, scenes and background information, while the fourth will offer a completely different resolution to the storyline.
Part of the aim of the reworking is to make the very complex story more accessible to those who don’t have the fortitude or desire to grok all the intricacies of the series; in a way, it’s a bit of a dicey proposition, in that the films have to significantly condense a lot of information. If you’re not familiar with storyline, it’s a trippy apocalyptic tale of an earth under attack by “Angels,” which are fought by Evagelions (Evas) piloted by children. There’s way, way too much intricate information about what exactly the Angels are, how they got here, what their relationship is to humans and what the secret intelligentsia controlling the world governments really has in mind for humanity; if you’re a fan of the series already, you know all the details, and if you’re not, well … even though these films are supposed to make the ideas of the series easier to comprehend, I’d still recommend delving into Neon Genesis Evangelion as well.
It’s among the most fascinating and intricately plotted of anime series, packed with heavy, philosophical ideas, a complex, interwoven storyline and compelling characters. The updated animation in the movie was fantastic, and it’s certainly worth catching on a big screen, but for the best delivery of the overall ideas of Evangelion, I just don’t think you can beat the original series.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon