Film Essent Archive for August, 2011

Highbrow, Middlebrow, Lowbrow

If nothing else, The Help has certainly stirred up some of the most interesting arguments amongst the critical set that we’ve seen in a while. Check out, for instance, this very excellent Indie Focus piece by Mark Olsen for the LA Times. It’s a retort to this piece by critic Stephen Farber, lauding The Help for its very middlebrowness. Here’s an excerpt from Farber’s piece that nicely sums up his stance:
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The Magic of Elmo

As you may know, I’ve been in the hospital all week with my youngest, Luka (pictured here, intently painting a wooden snake that one of the art volunteers brought in yesterday. Luka has a seizure disorder, and we’re in here getting some multi-day testing done so his neuro doc can determine which meds to put him on and what the medical plan for school will be.

So, as you also may recall, earlier this summer I wrote a piece about Constance Mark’s marvelous documentary, Being Elmo, which is actually about how a little boy with a dream to make puppets grew up to become Kevin Clash, voice of Elmo and one of the most famous Muppeteers ever. While that film shows Kevin’s journey into becoming Elmo, even more than that you really get a glimpse into who Kevin is as a person, and if you haven’t seen this film, let me tell you, it’s pretty darn special.

Shortly after we saw Being Elmo at SIFF and got our picture taken with Elmo and Kevin, Luka went into the hospital for his first stay. Some folks associated with the film saw my blog post about that, and since they knew who I was since I’d previously written about the film, it came to Kevin’s attention that Luka was dealing with some medical crap and I heard from Connie that Kevin wanted to do something to help. But I also knew they’d been touring a lot in support of the film, so I figured, whatever. If he’s able to do something he will, and if not, cool.

Then we had to go in for this longer stay, which has mostly been boring until this morning, when Luka had to undergo a fairly traumatic medical procedure that exhausted both of us, and involved me yelling at a bitchy, unhelpful nurse to get the hell out, and at the poor food delivery person who kept trying to deliver our lunch right as my kiddo was writhing on the bed and screaming that the EEG tech was killing him. The nurse really ticked me off. We’d made it through the first couple electrodes, and Luka was crying and asking if we’re almost done and she says (I kid you not), “Done? We’ve just barely even gotten started here.” This earned her the Look of Death from me, and I took her aside and hissed, “You are NOT being helpful. Leave now.” Jesus. If you don’t know how to deal with little kids and be sensitive to their hurts and their fears, you bloody well shouldn’t be working in pediatrics. Or perhaps not in nursing, period.

Now the EEG tech is actually great, he’s taken time to hang with Luka and bond, and Luka pretty much trusts him. And he’d shown me on my own body exactly what he had to do, which involved squirting conductive gel down into several of the electrodes superglued to Luka’s head that were no longer conducting or recording, so I knew that while it was uncomfortable, especially given his sensory sensitivity issues, it was not actually killing him. It had to be done, but Luka was hyperventilating and hysterical, and I had to just stay calm but firm and help him get through it, and between the great EEG guy and me (minus Nurse Not-So-Helpful), we pulled it off somehow and got it done.

And then I had to slip into the bathroom for a moment where Luka couldn’t see me, and just have an outburst of bursting into tears over having to physically hold him down while this was done, while he was screaming that we were killing him. Thank goodness our EEG guy is patient and sweet because if he hadn’t been I might have punched him in my own distress. I know parents of kids with terminal illnesses deal with this and so much more, and you get through it somehow, but gosh almighty, it’s a devastating thing to deal with.

So in other words, shite morning, and by the end of it Luka and I were just exhausted and upset. And then …

… and then my cell phone rang with a call I was expecting from an voice mail earlier this morning. Elmo was calling to talk to Luka. I put Luka on that phone, and immediately, he burst out into an ear-to-ear grin. “Mom, Elmo’s on the phone, the real actual Elmo!” he whispered excitedly. Luka and Elmo had a nice little chat, Luka told Elmo all about being in the hospital, and Elmo said some Elmo-ish reassuring things, and Luka listened seriously, occasionally saying, “Yeah, okay Elmo. I will.” Elmo told Luka that Elmo is sending Luka a special surprise to our house and that Elmo hopes Luka feels better and that Elmo loves Luka very much.

Then Elmo said goodbye, Luka handed the phone over to me, and Kevin and I chatted a bit about Luka and I thanked him profusely for calling. And Luka, now, is calm and happy and smiling again. It was just a couple minutes out of Kevin Clash’s time, to do this thing for my son, but for Luka it was huger than huge that Elmo called him on his mom’s VERY OWN CELL PHONE! and talked to him and cared that he’d had a crap day. Those minutes that Kevin took out of very busy schedule to do this meant everything to a little boy who’s been brave and tough through this whole week, but who is still just a little boy who doesn’t want to be stuck in a hospital having needle-like syringes poked repeatedly into his already tender scalp.

I called Constance and asked her if it was okay to share this story here, because I know Kevin is modest and kind of shy guy and that he was doing this not for any publicity, but out of the goodness of his very big heart. I’m sharing this story here because so many of you have very sweetly emailed and called to ask how we’re doing, but more importantly, because I want people to know: This folks, is Kevin Clash. He is the real deal, a person with a heart as big as Big Bird. If the Grinch’s heart was two sizes too small, Kevin’s must be 100 times too big. And the love that is inside him, which comes out so eloquently through that little red puppet, filled my boy with love and warmth today, erased his tears, and put his beautiful smile right back on his face.

So thank you to Kevin, and to his assistant Kimi and Being Elmo director Constance Marks, for caring enough about Luka to facilitate this. Luka and I thank you, most sincerely, from the bottom of our hearts.

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And Now for Something Completely Depressing …

These, from an email that just landed in my inbox, are the top five films that moviegoers are “anxiously awaiting” for the fall movie season:

5. Paranormal Activity 3
4. Puss N’ Boots
3. Happy Feet Two
2. Footloose
1. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn

I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how depressing this list is. So instead, I’m going to go bury my head back in TIFF emails, gearing up to hopefully see some actual good, exciting films.

“Anxiously awaiting.” Bah.

P.S. I hated Happy Feet.


Publicists, Journos, and Ethical Lines in the Sand

Over on Facebook — where, shockingly enough, some of the most interesting film biz conversations I’ve had lately started — Film Society Lincoln Center publicist John Wildman posted a status update that reminded me of a piece I outlined a while back and then promptly forgot to finish. John’s Facebook comment pertained to a journo who’d been granted interview access to a filmmaker whose film was screening at FSLC, who (in John’s view) completely misrepresented what the interview was going to be about (to wit: it had nothing to do with the project for which the interview opportunity had been offered).

One of the commenters on John’s post (not the journo in question) chimed in with a journalistic point of view on dealing with publicists, in which she also made some salient points, particularly about publicists trying to control how journalists do their jobs. All this interesting conversation reminded me that I’d been thinking about this topic a couple weeks ago; with TIFF looming, it seemed a good time to bring up a discussion on the subject, because TIFF, as we all well know, is one of those fests where journos and publicists have to work and play together quite a lot.
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Hospital, Schmospital

Luka’s back in the hospital for a five-day video EEG, which means that I am also in the hospital for the duration. They caught some good seizure spikes back in June when we did the overnight stay (“good” here meaning: we were glad the EEG caught them, so that his neurologist has some info to work with), but he did not have any of his hallucinations or yucky headaches on that stay.

So this time we’re in for a longer stretch, in the hopes that they will be able to catch him having hallucinatory activity, and/or a headache, while he’s hooked up. We’re trying to figure out if the hallucinations are “aura” activity that’s preceding (warning of) impending seizure activity, or if they are migraine-related as he has had some pretty debilitating headaches over the past year or so.

At least we have a decent view from Luka’s room. And having been through this before, we are prepared for our time embedded in the peds seizure disorder unit: Luka has two brand-new birthday LEGO sets to work on, all his drawing supplies, a couple card games (UNO and Slamwich) and a spandy-new Rubik’s Cube that I bought because he’s good with puzzles and has been wanting to learn to solve the Cube since he saw a friend do it at the school talent show last spring. Also, video games and DVDs.

As for me, when I’m not keeping Luka busy and distracted so he doesn’t mess with the 27 electrodes super-glued to his scalp, I plan to use this time to catch up on a couple DVDs I brought with me; An indie called Missing Pieces, which I watched part of last week, but need to start over from the beginning and watch again. It has a fairly complicated plot, and I kept getting distracted by the cinematography. I also brought Go Fish, which we found while unpacking some boxes that had been stored in the garage. Score! Go Fish is one of the earlier films produced by Christine Vachon, and for some reason I haven’t ever seen it, so this is a good time to check it out. Then I have a short to check out, and a whole list of stuff I’ve been meaning to catch up on.

And then there’s TIFF, which will be here before we know it. Need to get my previews written up for that, pronto. And I have a column on indie auteurs that I started feverishly working on late last night when some ideas rose to the surface of my brain just as I needed to be going to sleep. And I have a couple side projects I’m working in my spare time as well. So, lots to do to keep us distracted, and hopefully our time embedded in the hospital will fly by.

Meanwhile, though, if you’re an indie filmmaker who’s made a short that you think is definitely a cut about average as far as story, acting and production value (especially if you have a URL where I can see it), drop me a line and let me know. I can’t promise to watch every short film that comes my way, but the ones that seem most compelling, I will check out, and the ones that really impress me in some way, I’ll write about here. Thanks, folks.

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Check this Out: Bedfellows

A short film really has to stand out from the pack to capture my attention. I’d like to say that I’m very good about seeing lots of shorts at fests, but honestly I’m not. There are always so many features vying for attention at festivals, and devoting a couple hours to sitting through a slew of shorts in the hopes that one or two might really be awesome tends to seem a daunting task in the middle of the insanely long work days the larger fests entail.

Which is why I’m very glad that Pierre Stefanos commented on my post last week about art versus commercial potential in indie filmmaking, and very kindly linked his name to the URL where I could find his short film, Bedfellows, on You Tube.
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On Art Versus Commercial Potential in Indie Filmmaking

Over on Hope for Film, Ted Hope posted a great piece by producer Karin Chien titled “.What American Indies Can Learn from Their Chinese Counterparts” And while there are a lot of interesting thoughts in that piece on how Chinese independent filmmakers fly under the radar, for me the most interesting aspect of Chien’s piece asks:

Here’s a thought: if there was absolutely no chance your film would receive commercial distribution in the US, would you still make your film? What would it look like, and would you cast/write/shoot/edit differently? And if that freed you to take creative risks, would that be irresponsible filmmaking or would it be truly free filmmaking?

That’s a hell of a good question, and one that independent filmmakers — or those who aspire to be such — really ought to ponder. Now, I would argue that there are indie filmmakers over here who do take creative risks, who aspire to realize a vision, to create “art” regardless of commercial potential. In the past year or so, I can think of a few films that take risks that put interesting, creative output over commercial potential. Here’s a few just off the top of my head: Calvin Reeder’s The Oregonian. Mike Tully’s Septien. Mark Jackson’s Without. Sophia Takal’s Green. And my favorite short film (so far) this year, Joshua Miller and Miles Miller’s sublimely weird, beautifully shot Pillow.
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Movie Theater Etiquette: It’s for Film Festivals, Too!

Over on IFC, Matt Singer posted a pretty funny “movie theater etiquette manifesto,” and David proposed his suggestions for a simplified version earlier today. I appreciate both of their takes on the things that suck about going to see a movie in a theater these days.

Right now, though, my head is buried deep in the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival and the growing list of of movies on my “want to see list.” And as much as I agree that we need a manifesto for regular-old movie theaters (or better yet, we need every theater to adopt the Alamo’s no bullshit, like-it -or-leave-and-don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-ass policies) we need one even more for industry and press attending film festivals. And I think most of you know exactly what I’m talking about here. We’ve probably bitched about all of these things over drinks in Park City or Toronto.
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Dear Internet: You are Depressing.

Dear Internet,

I think it’s time we had a little talk. Your negative attitude is seriously bringing me down.`Just this week, we had:

The London Riots, footage of which is beyond depressing. But even more depressing than the riots themselves: the overt racism and classism permeating many of the conversations happening in the comments sections of stories and opinion pieces on the riots. Oy.
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Riot or Revolution?

Watching the coverage of the London riots over the weekend, and especially reading a lot of the comments on various websites, both from Londoners and not, has pretty much convinced me that an awful lot of people don’t get it. The Tea Partiers sure don’t get it, if they don’t see how what’s happened in London could happen here.

I don’t advocate rioting or violence. But I do seek to understand the whys and wherefores of how such things happen, not just to blame the rioters or label them criminals — even when they’re engaging in criminal behaviors.
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Check out this BBC interview with Darcus Howe, a West Indian writer and broadcaster who lives in South London, schooling a BBC interviewer who accuses him of being a rioter himself when he talks about the need to understand why youth are rioting, both in London and in other places. In his response, Howe references the 1981 Black People’s Day of Action march, a mass protest in response to the lack of police response to a firebombing that killed 13 black youths. Howe was an organizer of the protest.

Hat tip: James Spione and Ava DuVernay, via Facebook.

And if you haven’t read the link Ray Pride tweeted yesterday to this incisively written piece by London blogger Penny Red about the riots, you should. An excerpt:

People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night. And now people have lost their homes, and the country is tearing itself apart.

Good stuff, straight from some folks who live there. Pass it on.

Birthdays, Cowboys, Aliens and Apes

Hey, it’s Monday! Whaddya know?

We had a big Summer Birthday Bash for Veda, who just turned 10, and Luka, who just turned 8, over the weekend, and I’ve been so busy with the mass double-night sleepover that went along with that, that I didn’t realize it was Monday until afternoon. Oops.

We tend to do Veda and Luka’s birthday parties together because they’re only a couple weeks apart, and it’s hard to find one weekend in late July/early August when most of their friends can come AND we have all six of our kids here at home, much less two. So far, neither of them seem to mind sharing a party; the Venn Diagrams of their individual friendship circles have multiple intersections. They each got to pick their own cake, and party decor, and pinatas, and a good time was had by all.

Tonight the three younger kiddos are off with their other parents, so we’re taking the older three out for burgers and a movie. I’m advocating for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in no small part because I’m kicking myself now that everyone digs it for not making the press screening. From the trailer, I thought it looked like Project Nim: Nim’s Revenge, but apparently it’s actually GOOD. Huh.

Neve would like to see Midnight in Paris again, but she’s also in favor of the boys’ pick … Cowboys and Aliens. So here I am, arguing with teenagers over why they should see the reportedly intelligent and philosophical Apes now and catch Cowboys and Aliens in a couple weeks at the $3 theater. The crux of my argument? “But all my film critic and film blogger colleagues think Planet of the Apes ROCKS and Cowboys and Aliens? Not so much.”

Who says no one pays attention to the critics? I’ve almost got the kids convinced …

Stake Out

Here’s the trailer from the 1985 Fright Night:

… and here’s the official trailer for the upcoming remake starring Colin Farrell as the vamp-next-door, with Anton Yelchin reprising the role of Charley Brewster, the kid who discovers his neighbor might be an evil, blood-sucking, murdering vampire.

The original Fright Night is one of my all-time fave cheesy horror flicks. It was fun. The remake looks darker and maybe scarier; I like Anton Yelchin as Charley, and Colin Farrell as an intense, scary vampire? Yes, please. (Although in the trailer, when Farrell says, “And your girl? She’s ripe.” … kinda reminds me of what LexG would say if he was a bad-ass vamp.)

Really hoping this doesn’t suck.

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Favorite Things: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

Last week, I pointed you to Barbie dolls with a magic vibrator. And that was some kind of awesome, right? Right.

This week, I’m turning you on to another one of my favorite things, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl! I swear, every episode of this web series made me laugh out loud. It’s bookmarked as one of my go-to sites for when I need a break, or a laugh, or when I’m trying to write and totally blocked. I love how J, our heroine, is so flawed and normal and, well, awkward. I especially love how she pens angry rap lyrics as a means of getting rid of her anger and issues. Her awkward raps crack me up.

When I’m pissed at someone and meditation and/or Xanax hasn’t helped, I tend to go the route of either writing angry letters that I then delete rather than email, or I’ll take a hot bath and imagine the person I’m pissed off at as the victim in a particularly cheesy and bloody horror movie. Imagining the object of your irritation being chainsawed or having their brains eaten by zombies is great for de-stressing yourself. But if I had a gift for writing rap lyrics, or if, like J, I didn’t so much have that gift as think I had it, I would for sure give that a try.

Here’s the first episode for your end-of-week chuckle. You can find the rest of the series on the Awkward Black Girl site (though I tend to watch them on YouTube because they load faster for me there). Enjoy.

Hat tip: Thanks to Ava DuVernay for tipping me off to this bit of fabulousness via Facebook.

P.S. I should have mentioned this earlier, but Awkward Black Girl is the brainchild of Issa Rae.

About a Girl …

These photos by Hedi Slimane of Frances Bean Cobain, now 18, have stirred a lot of chatter around the internet. I’ve seen everything from the obvious observation that she looks a lot like both her parents (shocking how genes work out that way), that she’s strikingly lovely in a dark, sad sort of way, to comments about her parentage and whether her life will be a tragic coda to theirs.

Here’s the thing, though: When I think of Kurt Cobain, I don’t think of someone who was a fuck-up or a loser or an addict. I think of the haunted, insular poet and musician whose music touched a generation. A lot of the greatest artists were screw-ups in their personal lives. And I would argue that the body of work many of them — Kurt Cobain included — contributed to their field of artistic endeavor exceeds the extent to which they may have had tragic personal stories.
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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