Film Essent Archive for May, 2010

Press Release: Oxford Film Festival Call for Entries

Press Release:
Oxford Film Festival announces Call for Entries
Festival organizers preparing for 8th annual festival
Oxford, Miss. – The Oxford Film Festival organizers recently announced that they are now accepting film submissions from May 20 to September 1, 2010 for the 2011 film festival.
The popular non-profit film festival returns for its eighth year on February 10-13, 2011.
“We are excited to start screening submissions for the 2011 festival,” Executive Director Molly Fergusson said. “As the festival grows, the films we receive get stronger and we’re looking forward to getting some great films this year. We are also working hard this year to obtain numerous awards for filmmakers and are excited for the return of the speed pitch panel which helped filmmakers obtain distribution for their films.”
Entries are due by the regular deadline of September 1, a late deadline of September 15 and WAB extended deadline of October 1.

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Little Miss Stripper-in-Training

Wow. This video of a troupe of young dancers competing in a dance competition shocked me — and let me tell you, I am not easily shocked. Girls as young as eight, dressed like strippers and doing overtly sexualized dance moves for a competition? What the hell were their parents thinking?
I loathe — and I mean really loathe — things like beauty pageants and dance competitions of this nature that require young girls to be sexually objectified. I’m not arguing that these girls aren’t talented — the more artistic dance moves they pull off in this video are inarguably impressive, particularly given how young they are. But the sexual gyrations of hips and pelvis, the shaking of asses, the arm movements intended to emphasize boobs that haven’t even sprouted yet? Completely inappropriate, unless your intention is to train your daughter from an early age to have a fabulous career as a stripper, in which case, go ahead and install a hot pink Barbie stripper pole in her bedroom and be done with it.
If these girls were highschoolers, I could maybe — MAYBE — see it. But this young? Hell, no.
Two of the parents can be seen in the video defending this. I don’t blame the girls here; girls who take dance at this level have been pushed and pushed by their parents and teachers to compete and win, and if they’re told this is what they have to do to win it, they’re not going to argue. No doubt they don’t realize there’s anything “wrong” with what they’ve been directed to do. Why? Because they’re little girls, who hopefully don’t yet realize that this kind of ass-wiggling, gyrating dancing, popular though it may be in the music videos, is by its nature sexual and sexualizing. Hip hop moves may look cool and all, but these girls are being completely sexualized and objectified … this is exactly the sort of objectification of young girls that Little Miss Sunshine so astutely targeted.
Let’s look at some quotes from the parental units here:
“The kids are doing something they completely love to do … it’s actually completely normal for dancing.”
Uh, yeah. Completely normal if you’re a stripper, or a stripper-in-training.
“My daughter’s eight years old, she doesn’t watch MTV, she watches kids’ movies … they’re going to be dancing and singing to songs that are popular on the radio right now…”
They’re going to be dancing to the songs the ADULTS in their lives allow them to dance to. See, you are the parent, and it is up to YOU to police not only what your kids are listening to, but also what song your child’s dance instructor chooses for them to dance to. It’s called parenting, and that involves more than writing a check for expensive dance lessons.
“In terms of the costuming, the costumes are designed for movement, and to show body lines … in terms of the costumes being inappropriate, it’s very normal within that context.”
Uh huh. Leotards manage to both allow movement and show body lines quite well for ballet dancers. Your girls couldn’t have had a dance choreographed that showed off their dance moves just as effectively, and been costumed more appropriately, while still being able to move freely and show off body lines? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
“They’re more covered up than they would be if they were swimming.”
Presumably, your daughter isn’t in her bikini at the beach or the swimming pool shaking her money maker in the faces of men in lounge chairs. Context, dude.
Let’s look at this another way. The dad being interviewed in this video tries to make the (LAME) argument that this was never intended to be viewed by millions of people … as if it being limited only to the audience that was there makes it okay because it’s “completely normal.” Riiiiight.
What do you suppose would happen if any one of these parents videotaped their daughter, in this costume, doing these dance moves to this song, and then put it up on a website and charged people (like, say, men with a sexual preference for young girls) a fee to watch it. Would that be okay? I mean, it’s not hurting the girl any, because she’s just doing what she loves, right? Giving it 110%, whoo-hoo! Attagirl. And if she doesn’t KNOW that pervs are out there masturbating to her eight-year-old self gyrating in a stripper outfit, what’s the harm, right? Sorry, Daddy-O. You allowed your daughter to be sexualized and objectified, cheered her on while it was happening, and now you’re rationalizing your bullshit when people call you on it.
What is wrong with parents today? Parents over-schedule their kids with activities, pressure little kids to achieve “elite” levels in sports and dance, push for higher test scores and more homework, pay more in tuition for kindergarten at fancy private schools than I paid for my entire college education … in the name of what? Whatever happened to just letting kids be kids? What’s happened to the innocence of childhood?
But hey, maybe you think I’m completely being a prude here, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with girls this age dancing in that manner, to that song, in those costumes. If you have an argument in favor of that, fire away.

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SIFF Notes: Subtitles

As I was walking out of a SIFF press screening for the film Father of My Children today, this group of four older festival patrons was ahead of me on the escalator (SIFF passholders are allowed to attend the press screenings that run the month before the fest opens). They were discussing the film, which they didn’t care for, and one of them said, “It just had too many little details, especially for a subtitled film!”
And I thought, what a uniquely American attitude … that a film by a French writer/director about French people should, of course, have been created with the needs of American audiences to not be overwhelmed in mind.
Still thinking about what to say about this film with the less-than-200 or so words with which I’m allowed to say them (crap, did those words count? Make that 176 words). One of the things about SIFF is that by the time many of the better films wend their way here, they’ve been acquired for distribution (yay!), which unfortunately for reviewing press means they are on the “hold review” list and can’t be fully reviewed until the film actually opens (awwww!).
I’ll say this teensy bit for now, since both films I saw today — Father of My Children and Soul Kitchen — are hold review films: I liked both of them quite a bit, though they are very different films emotionally and tonally. Interesting combination of cinematic flavor to see them on the same day; the combination would have been even more interesting if we’d been able to see the other film, The Oath (which won the cinematography award at Sundance). Unfortunately, that film had a subtitle problem (specfically, it was not in English and was lacking them), so everyone cleared out and went to lunch instead.
Damn subtitles.

Review: Iron Man 2

Directed by Jon Favreau

Spoiler Alert: This review contains some minor spoilers for Iron Man 2. If you want to go into the film knowing absolutely nothing about it, don’t read until you’ve seen it.

The problem with sequels is how seldom they live up to the promise of their predecessors. Such is unfortunately the case with Iron Man 2, which huffs and puffs but doesn’t quite succeed in blowing the house down.

Sure, okay, Iron Man 2 has lots of things you’ll like: big, glossy, action scenes, heaps of CGI special effects, and a brainy, brawny bad guy (played byMickey Rourke with a Russian accent, no less) who teams up with a somewhat less formidable bad guy (played by Sam Rockwell, no less). Rourke’s bad guy is dangerous in a Micky Rourke-crazy sort of way; Rockwell’s bad guy is just dangerous in the way that a lot of incompetent people with more money, power and ego than moral compass or brains with which to use them can be. Or perhaps, in much the same way that people with the money and power in Hollywood to greenlight mediocre sequels to comic book adaptations can be.

Oh, I jest, I jest … kind of. I don’t really think Jon Favreau and the production team behind Iron Man 2 are dangerous, per se, nor do I think they’ve created a pro-Republican, pro-military piece of agitprop disguised as an action film. It’s more just that it’s disappointing as hell that these folks had heaps of money with which to make an sequel to Iron Man at least equal to — and worthy of — the first, and rather than using the money and talent they had to accomplish this, they largely blew it by focusing more on setting things up for the Avengers storyline, and lavishing more attention on creating nifty effects than on crafting an actual story (see: the first Iron Man) with a character arc (see also: the first Iron Man) that audiences could get behind and care about.

Oh, well. At least it’s still better than either of the Transformers movies.

In trying to figure out just where things went awry between the first Iron Man and the second, it’s hard not to point a finger at the script, particularly given the absence of the writing team (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) that did such a spectacular job with the first film. The script for Iron Man took Tony Stark, an interesting comic-book character if there ever was one, and then crafted a story that allowed the writers (and Downey Jr, in his interpretation of the character) to take us inside Stark to explore both the physical and emotional reasons why he became Iron Man to begin with.

And Favreau did all this in an engaging way, juggling a good story with plenty of effects and fight scenes to satisfy the comic-book lovers who wanted plenty of bang for their buck; he succeeded, in fact, far better than anyone really expected.

Iron Man 2, however, doesn’t seem to know just what kind of story it wants to be when it grows up. The storyline (scripted by Justin Theroux, who also penned the equally unfocused Tropic Thunder script) is just all over the place, as if Theroux either wasn’t sure what story he wanted to tell, or had too many people influencing what went into the final script.

Is this a story about the dying Stark, ironically being killed by that which is keeping him alive, seeking redemption before it’s too late? Is it a classic good guys-bad guys action story? A cautionary tale about one man’s ego? A “good of the people” versus “selfish greed” thing?  Or is the first two-thirds of the film nothing more than a pathway to Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and the Avengers?

What I do know is that I was often bored while watching Iron Man 2 (and I wasn’t bored for a second watching Iron Man), in spite of the plethora of nifty CGI effects Favreau has wedged into every nook and cranny of this film. When you’re pondering how crappy the security in Monaco must be for Rourke as bad-guy Ivan to not only make it through airport security with his bad-ass whips-of-lightning get-up, but onto the racetrack itself with his weapon suit on under his coveralls, you know the movie’s lost a bit of its momentum (and it loses more of it a few minutes later with the silliness of how the whole racetrack attack scene gets resolved).

As for Scarlett Johansson as Natalie-from-Legal/Natasha … what can I say? Favreau, perhaps taking notes from Michael Bay‘s fawning drooling over  Megan Fox in the Transformers flicks, has Johannson posing more than a Playboy centerfold (you can practically hear someone shouting at her, “Crouch like a sexy tiger, Scarlett! Rrrrrrrrowwww!”). Sure, she gets to sex it up in a sexy, skin tight costume that emphasize her assets — which I guess is what every serious actress who’s worked with the likes of Woody Allen really wants, right? As for her big action-fight sequence, I might have been more impressed if it hadn’t been lit like a Vogue shoot, and if I hadn’t just seen an 11-year-old do the same things, only better, in Kick-Ass.

Gwyneth Paltrow
doesn’t get to sex it up like Scarlett, though there are plenty of shots that focus on her body for those who are into Paltrow (and either she’s curvier than she used to be, or costuming worked overtime to give her some). She tries her best to give Pepper Potts some intellectual and emotional weight here, to make her be more than just the smart, classy girl Tony Stark secretly wants to bed (perhaps even wed?) while he’s surrounding himself with barely covered boobs and asses and lusting after Johannson’s Natalie-from-Legal. But this is more the Paltrow of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow than the Paltrow of, say, Two Lovers.

I suppose Stark promoting Potts to CEO and signing control of the company over to her could be seen as a mark on the belt of feminism somehow, though I’m not sure a woman being promoted simply because the man doesn’t want to deal with all the details anymore — and then resigning a week later because it’s just alltoo much, could actually be read as a watermark of feminist achievement.

All that aside, for what it is, Iron Man 2 does have some things going for it, most importantly the return of Robert Downey, Jr., (who, for the record, I would watch in just about anything) as Tony Stark, the super-rich super-brainiac who invented the Iron Man suit and IS, as he brashly tells a Senate committee, Iron Man. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Lt. Col James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Stark’s best bud/sympathetic representation of the military establishment, without making us miss Howard much. And Rourke and Rockwell make dandy bad guys for Our Hero to go up against, though I think the script misses largely that Stark’s biggest enemy is himself.

Iron Man 2 also has other things a comic-book movie should have, like, weapons — lots and lots of weapons — and fights and explosions — lots and lots of those, too. If special effects and CGI battle sequences are your thing, you’ll leave Iron Man 2 feeling very sated indeed.

Garry Shandling makes gets to smirk and smarm his way through a side part as a slimy politician (is there any other kind?) who gets his comeuppance, more or less. I did find it interesting that there’s been some buzz about this film as pro-military, pro-Conservative propoganda when Shandling’s character is basically advocating not a capitalist position, which would hold that Stark’s invention is his to do with as he wishes, but a socialist one, which would argue (as Shandling’s Senator Stern does) that the good of the people outweighs Stark’s right to control and own his intellectual and physical property.

Stern obviously hasn’t been reading his Ayn Rand, but then neither does Stark turn all Howard Roark and start blowing up Iron Man suits by way of keeping them out of the hands of the thieves, either. All of which is just another way in which the script seems uncertain of its ideas and philosophical underpinnings.

But that’s okay because the ends — be it the right of the people to military protection or the right of the people to a CGI-packed, bang-’em-up comic book adaptation — always justifies the means, does it not? And the United States does not now and never has engaged in torture. And if you believe either of those things, I’ve got an awesome Iron Man suit to sell you … for the right price.

Bottom line: Is Iron Man 2 worth seeing? Yes, take the kids to see it (unless you’re a parent who freaks out over comic-bookish violence), or go see it with a pack of friends, by all means. But take it with a hefty dose of popcorn salt … this is enjoyable, mostly harmless weekend multiplex fodder, not anywhere near as surprisingly smart or engaging as its predecessor.

-by Kim Voynar

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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