Film Essent Archive for May, 2011

Odds and Ends

Hey, ho, happy day after Memorial Day weekend! Who didn’t
want to go back to work/school today? Yeah, me either.

Here’s something I think you’ll enjoy if you haven’t checked it out already: Matt Zoller Seitz’s very excellent video essay series on the films of Terrence Malick. Seitz’s commentary is smart and insightful; his knowledge of Malick’s body of work is quite academic, but conveyed in a way that makes his thoughts easy to digest. Part One of the series, on Malick’s first film, Badlands (1973) , is above.

Further video essays explore Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005).


I was enoying reading Andrew O’Hehir’s excellent Salon piece on recent films about ’70s radical terrorism today. Go read it, it’s good stuff. One of my favorite movie-related articles this year. Here’s a nibble:

Uli Edel and Bernd Eichinger’s Oscar-nominated “Baader Meinhof Complex” set West Germany’s legendary student radicals against the vivid social context of a repressive American client state still suffering from Nazi hangover, where fervid Trotskyist rhetoric seemed to spread like herpes (and often via the same vectors).

I love the mental picture that sentence evokes.

And lastly, YouTube suggested I might like this guy, based on the fact that I watched the Yatta Yatta video a while back.

Guy’s got a lot of videos, and he’s pretty funny. I kinda like him.

SIFF Roundup: Hold Review Haiku

Every year at SIFF, we have a slew of “hold review films,” about which we can only write 75 or fewer words. This year, just to make it more fun and challenging, here are some Hold Review Haikus for your enjoyment.

What’s that? You have nothing to do today? Feel free to pen a haiku for one of your own faves and leave in the comments …

Two by two by two
Variations on a theme

The Cathechism Cataclysm
Priest, roadie, school girls;
Mark Twain would never dream a
crazy trip like this.
Read the full article »


Can’t Get to Cannes?

If you couldn’t make it to the Cannes Film Festival this year, you’re in luck — is bringing you a selection of Cannes past. And best of all, they’re FREE for the first 1,000 views, through June 30.

I for sure want to watch Arnaud Desplechin’s The Life of the Dead (1991), Keren Yedaya’s Or (My Treasure) (2004), and Philippe Diaz’s The End of Poverty? (2009). There’s quite a few interesting-looking shorts I want to check out too. Take a look at what they have there. Any recommendations?

At SIFF This Weekend — May 27 – 30

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, which means an extra day off work to enjoy checking out some films at the Seattle International Film Festival! You don’t really want to hang out outdoors in the sun, do you? That’s bad for your skin. Being in a dark movie theater, however, is probably very good for keeping you wrinkle-free without Botox.

You can view the complete SIFF schedule for the holiday weekend on the handy-dandy fest calendar, or, if you’re not sure what to watch, you can try out The Siffter for suggestions!
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SIFF Review: The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical

Last Sunday, I took my son Jaxon, aged 11, to see The Sound of Mumbai, which is screening at SIFF in their Films4Families section. Jaxon is on the Films4Families jury this year, which means that for the first time, he’s being asked to view movies as more than just pure entertainment. The Sound of Mumbai was his first real experience with a documentary (other than March of the Penguins, and I’m not sure how much he remembers of that), and I was curious to see how he’d respond to it.

“Is this a real story or a made up story?” he whispered about 20 minutes in, as on the screen we saw the deplorable conditions in which the cheerful main subject lives.
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SIFF Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2, a mostly harmless sequel to its mostly harmless predecessor, is more notable for being the only Dreamworks film since 1998’s Prince of Egpyt to be directed by a woman, Jennifer Yuh, than for anything it contains it its relatively hefty (for a kiddie flick), toddler bladder-testing running time of 95 minutes.

Peppy pacing mostly keeps the storyline flowing along, and if your kids (or you) haven’t seen the first Kung Fu Panda, you should be able to keep up. In the first iteration of the franchise, Po the Panda (energetically voiced by Jack Black) was chosen as the Dragon Warrior in spite of being obese, clumsy and completely incompetent. Everybody hated him because he was obese and clumsy and completely incompetent and ate all the food, then they liked him because he got good at Kung Fu. Then he ran away to the 2008 Cannes Film Festival with Angelina Jolie after kicking Brad Pitt’s ass in a kung fu match. Or something like that, the details aren’t that important.

Just know that Po the Panda is now the Dragon Warrior, and he hangs in the Valley of Peace with his fellow warriors (including aforesaid Jolie as the sleek, sexy Tigress, rrrrrrrrowww) and his Yoda-like mentor Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). As an aside, anyone remember the days when animated films didn’t have to have big movie star names attached to them? Anyone?

So in this new Kung Fu, we get to learn the reason why Po is the last panda left, and he gets to match up against the enemy who killed his parents and all the other pandas and take his glorious, bloody revenge upon him and impale his enemy’s head upon a stick in the smoldering ruins of his castle stronghold. Er, I mean, he’ll try to reason with the guy, of course, and understand his feelings and his Mommy-and-Daddy-exiled-me angst, and why he felt he had to kill all the cute little pandas. And then, seeing their similarities are more than their differences, they’ll work through their conflicts using the Non-Violent Communication model to reach consensus, and be BFFs 4Ever while Elton John croons a touching closer.

Or something like that.

It’s all very colorful, and the pacing clips right along. There’s a deliciously bad bad guy who doesn’t really have a reason to be so bad (well, at least before he got exiled), and lots of bad wolves running amok. Why are the wolves always the bad guys? Why not the squirrels, or the hedgehogs? No one knows.

Important lessons are learned along the way, blah blah blah, and there are plenty of fights that are exciting without being too scary or violent for most small fry. Yes, it’s predictable, but so are the books you probably read to the kids at bedtime, right? Kids like predictable. They have their whole lives to care about character arcs and dramatic tension and movies being interesting.

We saw the 3-D version, and let me just say, I am starting to hate 3-D. It’s too damn dark, and most of the awesome 3-D effects are gratuitous. I don’t like it, I don’t need it. But … my kids love it. They love the special 3-D glasses, they squeal with delight as something swoops toward them, they jump when something looks like it’s going to hit them. They dig it. And since the only reason I’m going to a movie like this anyhow is for them, I might as well suck it up and do the 3-D, right? That’s what enough of us do to keep studios cranking them out, anyhow.

This film is fine for the younger set, and not completely intolerable for the grownup forced to accompany their kid to see it. Worst case, you snack through the previews, then get a 95-minute nap while your kids have a good time. Or something like that.

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White is the New Black?

I came across this Gothamist post about a study out of Tufts and Harvard which argues that “whites see racism as a zero-sum game that they are now losing.” In other words, the study indicates a shift in public opinion concerning perception of racial bias, which in turn could have a greater impact on matters of public policy — in spite of clear economic evidence that, as a group, Blacks still fall behind Whites on everything from home ownership and education to employment.

I’ve heard all the reverse racism arguments from my conservative friends and family on trips back to Oklahoma. The arguments from people who say in one breath that they’re “not racist,” while in the next they argue the success of Asian immigrant families as “proof” that problems of poverty and gangs and violence among poor African-American families and Latino families are about race, not about social disparity. Or that the problems of the “welfare class” are about people being lazy, not about people having lack of access to opportunity, or being set up to fail. Or my favorite, the argument that “it’s not about race, it’s about class.” Oy.
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SIFF Review: Jess + Moss

Every now and again, a filmmaker sets out to do something kind of off-the-wall and experimental, and it ends up working brilliantly. Such is the case with Jess + Moss, an experimental film with a ghost of a story whispering its way through a sumptuous canvas created, as we learned from the director in the post-screening Q&A, almost by happenstance.

The film, very loosely, is a coming-of-age story of sorts about lovely, leggy Jess (Sarah Hagan), who in spite of recently graduating from high school, is still more woman-child than woman, and her 12-year-old second cousin Moss (Austin Vickers). The film loosely follows the things that happen between the two as they play together through lazy summer days on the family tobacco farm, using a dilapidated farmhouse as a clubhouse of sorts where they play with the sort of unfettered freedom that you and I may have enjoyed in our own youth, but which has been largely lost to the children of today’s clean-scrubbed, sanitized, overprotective world.
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The Real Reason Guys Should Hate Twilight

Love this.

SIFF Note: On Kung Fu Panda 2’s Female Director

I’ll have a review of Kung Fu Panda 2, which played at SIFF on Saturday as part of their Films4Families series, in a couple days. But in the meantime, I wanted to call your attention to this interview with Kung Fu Panda 2 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, over on Cartoon Brew:

I’m kind of surprised I haven’t seen more written about Kung Fu Panda 2 actually being directed by a woman. If you look at the list of directors of Dreamworks/Pixar films, you’ll find that (much as I do like much of their output) they have a long history of using male directors.

Brenda Chapman directed Prince of Egypt waaayyyyy back in 1998 and is currently directing The Bear and the Bow, but other than that, I don’t believe they’ve had another female director until now. Cartoon Brew has a nice list of all the Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks films, listed by year and director, right here. (As an aside, that particular list is a part of an article about the dominance of CalArts alumni and the difficulty of getting a primo job in animation if you go to animation school anywhere else, which is another subject entirely, though also interesting.)

There have been a ton of stories written, by myself and others, about lack of strong female characters in many of the Pixar and Dreamworks films, as well as the male domination in the animation field (and in the movie industry generally) so really, I would have thought that Dreamworks publicity would be falling over themselves making sure everyone knew that this one was directed by a real, live female person. Curious.


SIFF Review: Without

Note: I first saw Without at the Sarasota Film Festival, where it was one of the films in competition for the jury on which I served.

It isn’t every day that a festival film by a first-time director, starring an unknown, first-time actress, catches my attention in the way Without has. The feature debut of both writer/director Mark Jackson and his leading lady, Joslyn Jensen, Without is a tense, taut psychological thriller, directed with a steady hand, and practically perfect in its pacing and tone.

In case you’re wondering, that’s actually rather difficult to achieve. I don’t think I’ve seen it done this successfully in more than a handful of films — 13 (Tzameti) and Grace, Primer and Cube all come to mind by way of comparing how these very different films all made smart, economical use of good storytelling, tension and dramatic effect to be excellent in spite of very small budgets.
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On Terrence Malick and an Artist’s Right to Privacy

“Terrence Malick is extremely shy and you must not attempt to make direct contact with him. You must pretend you are eavesdropping on a private conversation.”

My friend Matt Zoller Seitz posted a link this morning on Facebook to this rare transcript of a public Q&A with Terrence Malick from 2007 at the Rome Film Festival, at which he showed clips from a few Italian films and discussed what he liked about them. Although the audience had been warned that Malick would not talk about his own work, he did in fact show clips from Badlands and The New World and briefly discuss them — perhaps one of the only times he’s ever done so.
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SIFF Dispatch: I Went to SIFF, and My Car Got Raptured

Well, not so much raptured as stolen during a SIFF screening in broad daylight on a Sunday morning. No joke.

This morning I took my son Jaxon to see the second of his Youth Jury films, Sound of Mumbai. I’ve wanted to see this one myself, so I was excited to go. Today also happened to be the day of my daughter Neve’s Coming of Age service at church (kind of the Unitarian equivalent of a Bat Mitzvah if you’re Jewish, or Confirmation if you’re of the Catholic peruasion. Pretty big deal). So I got up early and took Jaxon to the 9AM service, figuring I’d be out in time to get us to Renton for the screening at 11AM.

We made the screening, which was at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, adjacent to (or maybe part of?) Renton High School. Parked the car right by the sidewalk, in full view of the entrance. Made sure to lock the car, because it’s Renton. There was a church service, I heard, also going on on the same campus. In other words, lots and lots of people milling about, broad daylight. Performing arts center parking lot.

We got there at 11AM, got out of the screening at 12:30, car was gone. Raptured? Stolen? Probably teens taking it for a joy ride, or to steal the stereo, so sayeth the bored and nonchalant cop who came out to take the report. Of course he can be bored and nonchalant, it’s not his car. Their find rate on stolen vehicles is pretty high in Renton, so sayeth the clerk at the police station who filed the affidavit for us.

The car is fully insured, at any rate, so if it’s found but damaged, we can get it fixed, and if it’s not found they’ll replace it. But still, criminy. It very disconcerting to walk out of a theater after a feel-good movie, discussing it with my son, on our way back to the church to be there in time for the potluck celebration, and find my car gone.

I do have to add, the volunteers working the screening, one of whom may have been the venue manager, were nothing but helpful in trying to resolve things. One of them (I’m so sorry, I didn’t get your name, but thank you) called the police for me, then stayed with us until they go there. She was great. And it’s not SIFF’s fault that it happened. C’est la vie.

I’ll have more on Sound of Mumbai, and also on Jess + Moss, which I finally caught up with last night, soonish. Right now, I need a cup of hot tea.

By the bye, if you are in Seattle, Without screens tonight at Harvard Exit at 9:30PM and tomorrow at the Egyptian at 4:30PM. Go see it. You’ll like it.

2011 SIFF Kicks Off with Festive Opener

The 2011 Seattle International Film Festival kicked off last night with a festive, energetic Gala celebration. I pondered in my SIFF preview piece the other day why the fest chose The First Grader as their opener this year, and we kind of got an answer to that last night, as the fest announced a partnership with the Annenberg Foundation and to create the Explore Series, which will feature five issue-driven films — and donate $5,000 to each of five organizations that serve causes related to those films.
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At SIFF This Weekend — May 20-22

This weekend, the Seattle International Film Festival offers an array of interesting, good films to choose from, which you can view on the handy-dandy fest calendar. Not sure what to watch? You can try out The Siffter for suggestions!

If you’re looking for recommendations, my own picks for Friday would be Submarine (7PM, Egyptian) or 3 (7PM, Neptune), Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage (9:30PM, Egyptian), AND the midnight screening of Trollhunter (midnight, also at the Egyptian). For Saturday, consider checking out Nuummioq, the first feature film out Greenland, at 11AM. The afternoon offers How to Die in Oregon up against Silent Souls — either is recommended.

If you’re over in Renton, which is having its opening night tonight, you can catch SXSW standout Natural Selection and Touch, an terrific little film about the relationship between a manicurist and a mechanic. In some ways, it’s kind of a lighter, funnier version of The Off Hours. which screens later in the fest.

Tomorrow afternoon you could catch The Trip, the hilarious road trip film with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and then check out Miranda July’s excellent, trippy flick The Future. Later tomorrow night, you won’t go wrong with either Perfect Sense or Jess + Moss, and midnight brings another offering: John Carpenter’s The Ward. Bring a friend.

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Quote Unquotesee all »

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