Film Essent Archive for April, 2010

Ebertfest 2010:Aftermath of Genocide, Aftermath of Shallow Consumerism, and the Stunning Visuals of Man with a Movie Camera

Now that I’ve got all the Apocalypse out of my system, I wanted to catch up on writing about the other films I’ve seen here at Ebertfest. Yesterday I caught the two other films screening earlier in the day. The first film, Munyurangabo, directed by Lee Isaac Chung. Munyurangabo is a journey film about N’Gabo,a Rwandan orphan traveling with his friend Sangwa on a quest for bloodletting justice. Along the way, the pair stop to visit Sagwa’s family, and then all these issues of Hutus and Tsutsis and genocide crops up and complicate matters.
Sangwa’s family is Hutu, N’gabo is Tutsi, and Sangwa’s parents don’t want their son’s friend around. N’gabo has his own issues, since he no longer has a family because they were murdered by Hutus during the genocides. All this business of warfare over seemingly inncocuous surface differences — Christian versus Muslim, Hutu versus Tutsi, capitalist versus communist, Nazi versus Jew — is something I struggle to understand, and I’m not sure films like Munyurangabo make it any easier, for me at least, to grasp the whys and wherefores over what seems to me to be meaningless, endless bloodshed. What is it about man’s nature that makes him to want to hurt and kill? I don’t know, and I don’t have any clearer understanding after seeing this film. But that’s okay, because I don’t think the filmmakers were going for anything quite so in-depth or philosophical here as much as they were telling a tale of loss, redemption and friendship.

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Ebertfest Dispatch: Apocalypse Now, Revisited in More Way Than One

I tend to hit the point at every film festival where I need some quiet time away from the theater and the chatter of people talking about movies to just decompress and process my own thoughts a bit, and today at Ebertfest I hit that wall of needing some down time. So, much as I wanted to catch Departures, instead I’m sitting in Aroma, this lovely coffee shop down the street from the Virginia Theater, by myself at a quiet table with only my laptop and some swingy old standards playing over the sound system for company, and it’s lovely to pause a moment and have some space and catch my breath.
I think I’m especially feeling the need for some downtime today because I’m still recovering from last night’s three-hour-plus screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux. Every film critic (well, at least those with whom I’m personally acquainted) has some gap in their personal film-watching checklist, and this was one of mine. I last saw Apocalypse Now when I was 11 years old (Yeah, I know … my dad also took me to Alien and Coma, what can I say? But it’s part of what made me love movies, being exposed to those films). Now, I lacked both the context and intellectual development at 11 to fully appreciate Coppola’s film, but for some reason my exposure to it at that age has made me reluctant in my adult life to, well, revisit it. Until now.
So when I saw that Roger had programmed Redux on the slate, I was trepidatious. In fact, I came very close to not staying for the screening at all; I got there early to snag a seat and get some work done, and as it got closer to screening time I started feeling claustrophobic, almost panic-attacky (no, that’s not a real word or medical term, but work with me here). My chest felt tight. Maybe I had another pulmonary embolism, I thought hopefully (that this thought even crossed my mind at all should tell you how emotionally reactive I was to even seeing this film at all, n’est-ce pas?).

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Ebertfest 2010: Day One Redux

Ebertfest 2010, aka The 12th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festvial, kicked off tonight with the Opening Night Gala at the President’s House. The gala, as per usual, featured some swank appetizers — among the offerings: mini Maryland crab cakes, pork medallions and these amazing almond macaroons. If I was a blue-haired old lady with a giant macramé handbag, running sneakers and an Ebertfest ballcap, I might have dumped a whole plateful of those macaroons in my bag for later.
New this year: Roger has invited many of his “Far Flung Correspondents” to the fest. The FFCs are a slew of film commentators from around the globe who are regularly featured on his Journal, and include voices from Canada, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Phillipines, South Korea, Taiwan and Uruguay, and they offer persepctives on film that Roger’s huge US reader base might otherwise never even be exposed to.
A brief aside from talking about the fest itself: I have to say that I think Roger’s idea of bringing diverse voices into the often all-too-insular world of film criticism is nothing short of brilliant, and it’s a great example of expanding the idea behind this film festival to begin with — to bring together filmmakers, critics and lovers of film into the same place at the same time, mixing them up (shaken, not stirred?) and see what happens.
It’s such a simple, yet smart idea, to allow these critics from far-flung places both a place to share their points of view and engage in the discussion of film. Beyond that, it shows how much Roger has grown to understand and use the power of the internet as a virtual tool, something he started doing a couple years ago when he started his online journal as a way to expand his website beyond mere reviews and into conversation. He’s adopted and adapted to the use of Twitter as a way of further engaging with his readers, both fans and detractors. Anyone who thinks Roger Ebert is an old fart who doesn’t “get it” isn’t paying attention; he is constantly seeking new ways to generate discussion about film and experimenting with ways to bring people together to do so.
Now, back to the fest itself. The opening night films were Pink Floyd The Wall (which, as David Poland mentioned in his post, was unfortunately not screened in 70mm as it was supposed to be). Much as I wanted to catch The Wall, I took the redeye flight from Seattle at 1AM this morning, finally got checked into my hotel room around 3PM, and hadn’t had anything all day other than coffee. I desperately needed more food than the yummy gala appetizers, so Elvis Mitchell and I headed over with his host, Wendy, and her husband to Steak ‘n’ Shake, a midwest staple, for burgers. The burgers were just so-so, but the company was great. Then it was off to the Virginia Theater for the screening of Swedish director Roy Andersson’s You, The Living, which I’d never seen.
Wow. This film is brilliant, and I’m grateful to have been able to see it on a big screen in a theater. A series of vignettes in the entertwined lives of people living in the same town, the film is on the one hand an exercise in minimalism, exquistely framed and shot in muted pastel tones that reflect the bleakness of the lives on which Andersson focuses his lens, and on the other an exercise in patience and exacting perfectionism, in that it took (according to the post-film panel discussion) some three years to shoot, include two months just to build one particularly challenging set piece. Talk about dedication to wanting a film made just the way a director wants it.
You, the Living is a study of the human condition through the lives of these tragically flawed and sad people who are stuck in the endless rut of their mundane lives like hamsters endlessly and pointlessly treading a wheel in a cage. They are so stuck, each of them, in their own heads and their own dreams that they can’t make real connections with each other because they are each seeing and hearing only what they want to see and hear. Characters talk without being heard, act without being responded to, exist in individual vaccuums orbiting around each other, occasionally bumping into each other but never connecting on deeper levels.
It’s a very dark and tragical take on human nature, and yet, like many brilliant writers, Andersson finds the humor inherent even in the sorrow, the bleakness, the aching lonelines of his characters’ lives, and it’s a very funny film. These are people that, by all rights, we ought not to care about after meeting them only through one or two short vignettes with no overarching clever plot to tie all the pieces together; yet we do care about them, which is why the film’s closing scene (which reminded me, in a certain way, of Dr. Strangelove) is so devastating.
It’s one of the great things about this festival that you get to see films like this that you otherwise might ever even think of seeing, much less get to see on a big screen in a theater like the Virginia. Brilliant.
Tomorrow’s agenda: Up early (well, we’ll see about that) for an early morning meet-and-greet breakfast and hopefully catching all three films: Munyurangabo, The New Age and Apocalypse Now Redux, punctuated by coffee and chats with friends old and new and the always fun green room dinner, where you never know what fascinating people you’ll find yourself getting to know over a good meal — which is as much the point of being at Ebertfest as the films themselves.

Q& A: A Reader's Thoughts on My Kick-Ass Column, and My Own Response

My Voynaristic column, “Why Kick-Ass Isn’t Reprehensible, Morally or Otherwise” has generated considerable response and discussion, thanks in large part to Roger Ebert re-tweeting it in spite of the column directly attacking his own review of the film (which just goes to show that Roger is and continues to be a prince among men). An email I received from a reader, Robert Hamer, was particularly thoughtful and merited, I felt, deeper consideration and discussion. Robert’s email to me is below; you will find my response to him after the jump.
SPOILER WARNING: This discussion does contain spoilers regarding the film, so if you’ve not seen it and don’t want to read spoilers, stop now or forever hold your bitching.
Hello, Kim. Long time reader, though this is my first message.
I wanted to express my disagreement with your assesment of the controversy surrounding Kick-Ass, as it sort of misses the point as to why her character is so distasteful. I have absolutely no fear for the well-being of Chloe Moretz or that any young person is going out to try and be a foul-mouthed superhero. But I am disheartened that someone as vicious, violent, and heartless as her is celebrated by audiences across the country. It’s a sad reminder – to me, at least – of how gleefully sadistic American movies have become to have a film show a child brutally killing people (one of them innocent, if my memory is correct) and expect me to think it’s “funny” or “cool” and to sneer at me if I don’t.
You cite in support of your “the controversy is unwarranted” argument Taxi Driver and Pretty Baby, but I don’t think those comparisons are appropriate. In both cases, the situations of those girls were portrayed with restraint and compassion. Scorsese didn’t cheer at Iris being a prostitute; Malle didn’t film Violet as an object of titillation or juvenile entertainment. Those controversial scenes were necessary and in service of larger ideas. Kick-Ass can’t claim any of that, and in fact has its initial themes (normal superheroes in the “real” world) suffer because of the absurdity of the Hit-Girl character. Certainly, Matthew Vaughn can’t claim “restraint” or “finesse” in portraying this character, as in many points of the film he breaks from the flow of his action scenes to focus, in gruesome detail, every single bloody death.
Does this mean that society should be up in arms over Kick-Ass? No, any more than parent’s groups shouldn’t be crusading against Grand Theft Auto III because it allows you to kill prostitutes. But it’s perfectly justified, as far as I’m concerned, to be disturbed and repelled by both.
My response after the jump …

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Dallas International Film Festival 2010

I had a whirlwind couple days at the Dallas International Film Festival; I arrived in Dallas Wednesday afternoon, did a somewhat ironic panel on the relevance of film criticism at film festivals on Thursday, and then headed back to the airport just after noon on Friday. The briefness of the trip, unfortunately, limited my ability to see and write about a lot of films from the fest as I would have liked to, but I did manage to squeeze a couple in: Kick in Iran (a Sundance pickup for the fest) and the closing night film, A Solitary Man.
The former is a documentary that follows Sarah Khoshjamal, the first female athlete from Iran to ever qualify for the Olympic Games. Khoshjamal is charismatic, tough and imminently likable, but her story begs to be better dramatized, perhaps as a narrative feature. As a film, Fatima Abdollahyan‘s doc tends to slip into that realm of documentary films with fascinating subjects that don’t play quite as well theatrically as they might on a smaller screen, but Khoshjamal’s story is so interesting that it almost doesn’t matter.

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Constance McMillen and the Super Secret Prom

Hey y’all, you know what would be funny? Like, hysterically funny? Like, let’s hold a super-secret prom and not tell that bee-yatch Constance McMillen about it! Then she and her lesbo girlfriend and the stupid LD kids will show up for that prom, while we are across town partying it up at our own private prom! Won’t that be, like, hilarious, y’all?! And then we’ll put pics of our secret prom on our Facebook pages to make sure we give the ACLU more arsenal for their stupid lawsuit, and so the whole world will know we’re a bunch of teenage bigots! Hahahahah! Boy, won’t THAT be something to be proud of later?
I was holding out on writing this up until there was some kind of confirmation that it actually happened, and now Constance has confirmed that it did.
Boy, you just can’t beat the stupid out of some people. In spite of Constance McMillen’s lawsuit against her school district when her high school denied her the right to attend her prom with her girlfriend, her bigoted fellow classmates (with, I’m sure, the help of their equally bigoted parents) still managed to keep Constance from going to her prom.
The school district had alleged in defending the lawsuit that the prom her school had canceled just to keep her from attending would, in fact, be held and that she would, in fact, be invited to it. And there was such a prom, and she was invited to the prom. Problem is, only seven people showed up to the official prom, with the rest of the students apparently attending a super-secret prom held in another location. What’s particularly shocking about this is that the entire student body apparently colluded in keeping Constance and the other kids who showed up for the official prom (two of whom have learning disabilities) from knowing about their secret prom.
Blogger Joe.My.God has pics on his site culled from a Facebook page of the teenage bigots partying it up at their secret prom, while Constance, her girlfriend, and the five other kids who showed up for the official prom sat at the other one wondering what the hell happened (well, I’m sure Constance is smart enough that she figured it out pretty quickly).
This whole business stinks to high heaven, but if you’ve seen Prom Night in Mississippi, the documentary about another Mississippi high school that held segregated proms until just a couple years ago (also with the collusion of parents and school officials) it’s not terribly shocking to learn that this kind of blatant ignorance and discrimination could happen in 2010. Apparently in Mississippi, some folks think it’s terribly important to teach their children that keeping those uppity gays in their place is important work. Wonder how many of them are also secretly Klan members? And how many of them went to church on Easter Sunday, false faces carefully in place as they purported to worship Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to remove the mote from our own eye.
Seems like some folks down there need to read their Bibles a little more carefully. Criminy.
Constance seems to have a good head on her shoulders in spite of the bullshit that’s surrounded this whole affair. I hope she knows there are plenty of folks outside Mississippi who supported her fight to attend her prom and her right to be who she is, and who admire the bravery she’s shown in being an openly gay teen while surrounded by bigots. Frankly, I’m shocked she hasn’t been physically attacked yet. I also sincerely hope that Constance, when graduation is over (and hopefully there won’t be a “secret” graduation to which she’s not invited) will move the hell out of Mississippi and go live in NYC, or San Francisco, or Seattle … some place where she can be openly who she is without dealing with as much of that nonsense.

Sakura-Con 2010 — Anime Geeks, Manga Freaks and Pocky, Oh My

three girls.jpgIt was anime geek heaven at Sakura-Con, the biggest anime convention in the Pacific Northwest. Over 20,000 excited anime fans of all ages turned out for the event, and I think about half of them were in line at the same time we were to get their badges. I took Neve and two of her girlfriends for a weekend of geeky-girly bonding time, and I bought our passes waaaaaay back in November because it’s cheaper if you pre-register. You might also think that pre-registering would make it quicker and easier to pick up your badge. Hah, silly you. Why would you think that?
We got to the exhibition hall to pick our badges up Friday morning and faced a daunting line snaking around for what looked like forever. It looked chaotic, but friendly convention staff was on hand to guide us to the end of the right line. Neve’s friend Steph did not pre-register way early like we did, she just bought her pass a couple days ago. So you might think that she would have a longer wait at the Will Call booth than those of us who paid for ours months ago. Again, you would be wrong. Steph had her badge in hand in a matter of minutes, whereas we waited in line for over two hours. Fortunately, there were plenty of interesting costumes all around to look at while we were waiting and folks were mostly cheerful in spite of the long wait.
Image157.jpgBecause the wait for our badges was so long, the girls missed the panels they were most interested in on Friday, so we mostly spent Friday just walking around, checking out everyone’s awesome costumes. There was a truly amazing array of costumes and creativiy on display at this con; people really put a lot of work into playing their favorite characters, and there was a lot of impressive attention to detail and quality of workmanship.
Sakura-Con runs 24-7 the whole weekend, with a 1AM-5AM curfew for minors. There was a lot to see and do, and the girls wanted to go pretty much nonstop so I didn’t have a lot of time to jot down thoughts during the con, but I broke down here the best and worst of our Sakura-Con experience.

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Why Not to Accuse Another Writer of Stealing Your Crap Unless You're Damn Certain They Did, in Fact, Steal Your Crap

There was an interesting little battle going on today between Gawker’s Adrien Chen and The Guardian’s Marina Hyde, wherein the former went off on the latter for “stealing” Justin Bieber jokes (surely there are more worthy things to worry about stealing than your Justin Bieber jokes, but hey, who are we to judge?).
Chen’s evidence for Hyde’s joke stealing is related to three jokes, one that talks about Bieber and Susan Boyle as YouTube sensations, one about Biebers Twitterability and snooty people who want you to know they are above the fray because they don’t know who he is by commenting “Who is Justin Bieber?” and the third about Bieber’s mall riot.
Despite the seeming simarility of their posts, I have to side with Hyde on this one. None of those jokes was pulled from any intellectual property (or even particularly creative ideas) exclusive to Chen. They are all fairly obvious jokes to make if one is writing a piece on Bieber: It would be remiss to write about him and not include a reference to YouTube predecessor Boyle; an observation about the snootiness of “Who is ‘X'” is hardly an exclusive observation; and Bieber’s mall riot was all over the news — again, it would be remiss to write a piece on him and not include a reference to that.
I suppose Chen could ding Hyde also for poking fun at Bieber (my idea! my idea!) but he’d have to be pissed at a lot of other people for “stealing” that idea too. But I’ll ding Hyde for her smart-ass reference in her response to working for a “real” paper and her implication that Gawker is beneath the Guardian simply because it’s online. Guardian IS a better and certainly more reliable source of journalistic writing than Gawker, but not just because Gawker is online.
When I was working for Cinematical, where we frequently wrote about entertainment news stories, I used to get emails almost daily from this or that website about how one or another writer had supposedly “stolen” a story from them, but I never found any of those allegations to be true. I’m not saying there aren’t writers and sites that crib off other people’s work, but when you have many writers writing stories about the same pop culture topics for many sites, it’s pretty much inevitable that more than one writer will have the same “brilliant” ideas that he or she thinks are completely original and then get miffed when someone else had the same idea and assume there was stealing of intellectual property involved.
This is exactly why I don’t read other critics’ reviews of films I’m reviewing myself, or even talk much to anyone about a film I’m reviewing, until I have my own review written. The kerfuffle between Gawker and Hyde appears to have been resolved more or less amicably at this point, with Gawker being 93% certain Hyde didn’t rip them off, but the whole thing speaks to the perils of so many writers writing and posting about the same things in real time … toes get stepped on, one person tells another to go fuck themselves, and it’s all downhill from there.

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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