July 31, 2008

Underrated MOTM: Waking Life (2001)

School's out for summer, but that doesn't mean July's Underrated Movie of the Month (MOTM) has to be a mindless blockbuster. In fact, Waking Life is possibly the best antidote one could find for the poisonous images (The Love Guru, et. al.) we're subject to during these dog days of June-August.

Waking Life is an endlessly fascinating film that rarely receives its due credit for exploring a new dimension in animation. Intellectual overload combined with trippy rotoscope animation made for an overwhelming theater experience that twice left me in a daze. Unlike I'm about to do, the Boston Globe's Jay Carr nailed it in a sentence: "Often surreal, Waking Life transcends boundaries of technology, imagination."

Totally. I saw it in the month of October (it was released in 10/19/01), but it's the perfect movie to get lost in on a hot summer night on a huge screen in the dark of your living room. Watch it late and see where your dreams end up taking you.

Written and directed by Richard Linklater (Slacker, Fast Food Nation), Waking Life was filmed in less than a month during July of 1999 in and around Austin, TX (talk about Texan pride, Linklater seems to film or set as many of his movies as he can there). If you're from Austin you'll probably recognize many of the faces and places in Waking Life, but the rest of us are likely only familiar with Wiley Wiggins, who made his film debut in Linklater's Dazed and Confused, and Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, both of whom also starred in Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Got all that?

Well it's nothing compared to the radical theories and concepts thrown at you over the course of the 99 minutes of Waking Life. The "story" is simple enough: In a series of lucid dreams (the idea of which is amazing to me), our nameless main character (Wiggins) meets a diverse group of people who spend their time pondering, among other things, the very meaning of life. Those of you with advanced degrees in theoretical physics or philosophy may find it laughably elementary. Fortunately for the rest of us, our main character mostly acts as you would expect, politely nodding his head with a puzzled face, trying his best to understand ideas that are way beyond the average person's grasp.

And this is where the main criticism of the film is targeted. Said Mike Clark in USA Today, "It's like being in a college bar and listening to your companion blathering on about the secrets of the world." Others described it as "boring," "endless," "pretentious," "bogged down," "pedantic," "psycho-babbly hooey", and maybe most interestingly, "little more than isolated--and not terribly fulfilling--masturbation."

Clearly, most of the critical critics don't have those advanced degrees I mentioned. Nor do I, of course, but as much as I couldn't immediately process half of what was being said, I actually found Waking Life more fascinating than frustrating - as if I was allowed to just think about how a Rubik's Cube is put together without actually having to solve it. Plus, who can't enjoy a good old rant (one of my favorite scenes) in between all of the philosophizing?

Despite accusations that it celebrates intellectual snobbery, I would argue that appreciating the content in Waking Life is less about intelligence and more about personality type. The "analyticals" who enjoyed those late night college conversations will dig it; the more "emotionals" looking for a fun story or character will despise it. In either case, there's another aspect of Waking Life that we can all enjoy: rotoscope animation.



If you haven't seen it, you've surely seen its byproduct: those idiotic Charles Schwab commercials. You know where your Schwab investment money is going? To pay for some clowns to unnecessarily rotoscope those people whining about their riches. Anyway, the method simply involves animating over frames of live action. This means, of course, that the entire film is shot on video before animators take over for a few months and draw over everything. The result is a third dimension where the physical laws of the universe are tossed out the window: your skin moves separately from your body and the whole world seems wobbly. Probably not recommended viewing for those with motion sickness.

While I was wowed enough by the visuals to keep watching (and the creative use of animation often illustrated the monologues), some critics were still unsatisfied. TV Guide's Frank Lovece found himself bored by "talking heads that no amount of colorfully animated, lava-lamp-like undulations can make less static." Come on, Frank, appreciate the art! Oh well, enough other people did, and Linklater would go on to film 2006's A Scanner Darkly in rotoscope as well, making it and Waking Life the only feature-length rotoscoped films ever made.

Waking Life went on to gross just $2 million at the box office before evidently disappearing from cinematic discourse. No doubt thanks to Roger Ebert's praise, the film was nominated in 2002 for no less than Best Picture by the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA). Meanwhile, the Oscar nominees for the first ever Best Animated Feature film? Shrek (the winner), Monster's Inc., and, of course, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Where did I miss this snub in my list of the worst ever?

Speaking of snubs, Mulholland Drive (ironically, the CFCA's Best Picture winner) was coincidentally released in the U.S. on the
exact same day as Waking Life. The latter could be almost be viewed as an animated version of the former, and the movies remain as two of the most mindblowing experiences I've ever had in a theater.

I can't guarantee you'll have the same experience watching Waking Life at home, but at the very least it should satisfy your summer craving for something more substantive than Disaster Movie.

July 30, 2008

Short Cuts: "Hello, Who is This?"

The Big Sleep (1946). Directed by Howard Hawks; written by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman; starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, and Martha Vickers.



[The Big Sleep is one of the films I'll be reviewing for MovieZeal's month-long focus on film noir, which begins this Friday, August 1st.]

July 29, 2008

Around the World in 12 Movies

Unbeknownst to me while I was gone last weekend, I got nailed twice for a 12 Movie Meme making its way around the interwebs, originating from Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre. I don't even know what a meme is, but Scott at He Shot Cyrus and Nick at Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob (both fellow LAMBs), "tagged" me. From what I understand this is basically the blogging version of chain mail. If you don't do it you're going to hit by a virus or something worse. I don't want to find out, so let's do this.

You choose 12 movies, either randomly or based on a theme of your choice. Pair them up to present them as a mini film festival, two movies per day. Then choose five other bloggers to do the same, and links go around like a crazy game of online Twister.

On a whim, I've decided to take a "contemporary" movie trip to six different countries (some may only be set in that country, and they're by no means definitive). These are the countries and "contemporary" movies that popped up in my head right away for no apparent reason (it's actually an interesting exercise - pick a country and try it for yourself):

Germany - The Edukators and Run Lola Run

Two films exploring the modern ideals and dreams of young Germans in Berlin. The Edukators was one of my favorite movies of 2005, and Lola Rennt was one of the first movies that made foreign films "cool" for my generation. This would be an outstanding double bill to open the festival.







Mexico - Y Tu Mamá También and Amores Perros

Take your pick: Admire the beauty and innocence of young Mexicans on a fateful road trip, or recoil at the gritty underworld of Mexico City. In addition to giving us glimpses into vastly different segments of Mexican society, these two films also kickstarted the careers of three members of the new Mexican A-list: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros), Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También), and Gael García Bernal (both films).





England - Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Notting Hill

More than anything else, screening these would give me the chance to see them in a theater for the first time. The styles of these movies couldn't be more different, but they're linked in that their characters are presumably crossing paths on the same London streets. Might make for a funny mashup movie. Note that 10 years later, Jason Statham is still playing the same charming criminal (The Bank Job) and Hugh Grant is still playing the same dopey dude (Music and Lyrics).





South Africa - The Gods Must Be Crazy and Tsotsi

What would Coca-Cola be without The Gods Must Be Crazy - a tiny little soft drink company? Maybe not, but the exposure they received from the infamous glass bottle is legendary. While The Gods Must Be Crazy is quite ridiculous and ripe for misinterpretation (it was banned as racist material in at least one country), at the very least it brought attention to one of the countless cultures inhabiting our globe. In one way, Tsotsi accomplished the same goal, showing us that a contemporary African story (in an urban setting no less) can contain as much drama and symbolism as any cookie cutter American version. I'll add to this list whatever Nick Plowman does in the future.



India - Vanaja and Water

Two young girls from two very different times and two very different parts of India have two very similar experiences. Although Vanaja features beautiful colors and traditional dancing, the unfortunate treatment of a young girl can't be ignored. Water - well, it's about an even younger girl forced to live in an ashram after her husband dies. These two films might not be the most uplifting of this bunch, but they may be the most educational. Also, Water isn't actually contemporary, but I chose it over something like Bride & Prejudice. Actually, Hava Aney Dey might have been a good choice as well.





France - Ratatouille and 2 Days in Paris

In 2007, we saw two versions of Paris (plus Paris je t'aime) - the bright, romantic city on display in Ratatouille, and the somewhat more bleak urban setting where romance just about died in 2 Days in Paris. You can imagine which one will be the crowd-pleaser, but I don't think enough people gave 2 Days in Paris credit for being a truly funny capture of a relationship on the rocks.







To continue the madness I'll choose five blogs - this is not a popularity contest - who I don't think I've seen "tagged" and who I think might carry it on:

Miranda @ Cinematic Passions
Hedwig@ As Cool As a Fruitstand
Christian @ Oh My Blog (This meme originated from this post, and I believe Christian frequents the New Beverly Cinema in L.A.)
Alexander @ Coleman's Corner in Cinema
Evan/Luke @ MovieZeal

July 28, 2008

Soundtracks Are Going Silent...

Sometime around the peak of the buzz for The Dark Knight (and I promise, I'm not trying to keep buzz alive with all of these posts), I remembered that one of the biggest hit songs of 1995 was Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" from the Batman Forever soundtrack (check out the full track listing). Remember this video? Bizarre in hindsight, isn't it? Especially compared to the last two Batman movies.

Anyway, this morning I came across this BBC News article about the decreasing trend of using pop songs as movie themes. It doesn't necessarily mean that soundtracks are on the downfall and there aren't any more "Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture" albums, but iconic, Oscar winning theme songs by major artists really aren't that common anymore. Evidence? Compare the 90's nominees and winners (especially the early 90's - Bryan Adams, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John) with the nominees and winners from the last few years, and note the rise of musicals since 2000.

Personally, I think it's kind of sad. My memories from a number of older movies are linked to hit singles, and I never viewed them as marketing gimmicks that cheapened the movie, especially if they were just used during the credits or for music videos. (On the other side of the coin, I'm going to be debuting a new video clip feature next week where I regularly highlight some scenes that feature the perfect song at the perfect moment.)

What are your thoughts on the article, or about your favorite movie themes by major artists? What was the last great soundtrack featuring a compilation of stars, and is the declining trend good, bad, or meaningless?

July 25, 2008

A Short Trip to Gotham...

I've gone to Chicago for the weekend. I originally wanted to find the awesome Ferris Bueller's Day Off Chicago montage set to the song "Beat City", but all I could find was a remix version in Portuguese.

And so, since it's still #1 at the box office and I found a square inch of the internet not yet owned by The Dark Knight, I offer this clip filmed last August by some guy that, with my luck, I'll be sitting next to at Wrigley tomorrow.

How'd you like to be the crew member in charge of making sure the camera was rolling?



Easy, guys. Taaake it easy...

P.O.V. (Season 20, #3): The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández

In 2006, American troops were sent to the U.S./Mexico border for the first time since 1997, when all military operations at the border were called off following the shooting death of Esequiel Hernández, an 18 year-old American citizen who was tending his goats and mistaken for a drug runner by U.S. Marines. The incident marked the first American killing by U.S. military forces on native soil since the 1970 Kent State shootings.

The Ballad of
Esequiel Hernández is the directorial debut of Kieran Fitzgerald, who learned about Hernández while working on the fictionalized version of the shooting, 2005's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Tommy Lee Jones, who directed and starred in that film, is the narrator of Fitzgerald's documentary. (Another bit of trivia - the incident happened in West Texas, the filming location for last year's No Country for Old Men, in which Jones also starred.)

The fateful incident occurred outside Redford, TX, on May 20, 1997. Hernández fired the first shots (he carried a rifle in order to ward off wolves preying on the goats), but nobody knows why. Either he thought he saw an animal or he deliberately fired at the four fully camouflaged Marines sitting 220 yards away. The Marines initially retreated and then followed Hernández. When one Marine claimed to see Hernández raise his rifle in the direction of another Marine, the "rules of engagement" were followed and
Hernández was "neutralized."

There was little controversy over these details of what happened, but the debate raged over what both sides were thinking. The Marines claimed self-defense but the local community considered it a murder, especially since autopsy reports showed Hernández was shot in the back. Despite an initial uproar, no charges were filed and the Marine who fired the shot was even considered for a Navy Commendation Medal.

Now, 10 years later, the involved Marines admit they're not sure if Hernández actually raised his rifle in their direction. It's plausible that it may have been an accident, but the Marines have trouble reconciling their memories of what actually happened with the story they told themselves happened.

On May 15, 2006, 6,000 U.S. Marines were sent back to the border as part of the War on Terror. Bill O'Reilly, Tom Tancredo and others claim that "accidents will happen in any military deployment" and that these accidents have to be accepted as a sacrifice for upholding our national security. The film ends with some clever camera work that links George W. Bush's 2006 decision to his father's decision to send the troops to the border for the first time in 1989.

There's plenty to appreciate in The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández: the visual style, the interviews with the Marines, the archival footage, and even the title, taken from the border tradition of writing "corridos", or ballads, to tell rural stories and legends. The whole production is fairly impressive for a first film, but it's also occasionally clear that Fitzgerald is still learning his craft.

Some of the details and timing seem to get lost in the interview clips and reenactments, and an imbalance exists in which too much time is spent on the shooting and too little time is spent on its aftereffects in the ensuing years. If I understand correctly, Fitzgerald is trying to pin the U.S. government for not only promoting an aggressive mission in a peaceful area, but sending unprepared kids with itchy trigger fingers to complete that mission.

An ambitious effort that doesn't quite achieve excellence,
The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández is nonetheless an important film about the consequences of the U.S. military operating on domestic soil, and the blurry gray area that appeared when one of their objectives resulted in disaster. As always, PBS impressively carries on the conversation over at the P.O.V. blog.

July 24, 2008

300 Words About: Step Brothers

Grown men fighting like little children. The most symbolic movie of the year?

How is Judd Apatow not a recognizable name yet? We only ever hear, "From the guy who brought you...", as if it's not obvious enough when we see the cast. So, from the guy who "brought" us Anchorman, Kicking & Screaming, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, Knocked Up, Superbad, Walk Hard, Drillbit Taylor, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, You Don't Mess With the Zohan, and Pineapple Express, (breathe) comes Step Brothers.

There's little to discuss as relates to the plot of Step Brothers: Ferrell and Reilly are middle-aged children living at home with single parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins, respectively) who meet and get married. Now reluctant stepbrothers, the two men wrestle, hurl objects, and scream obscenities at each other for 95 minutes, stopping only to put on a different vintage 80's shirt at every opportunity.

A disclaimer, beforehand: 1.) My expectations for movies "brought to us" by Apatow was as low as ever, regardless of the specifics of his involvement; 2.) I didn't think John C. Reilly's full-blown commitment to comedy since 2005 was a good thing; and 3.) fresh off the heels of the terrible Semi-Pro, I still believed Will Ferrell could do no wrong.

All three of those facts remained true after Step Brothers. I thought Ferrell was hilarious, I thought Reilly was horrible, and I think the Apatow brand is a sham. Moreover, I'm concerned that the whole crew has become lazy, and that this is all we can expect going forward. The writing is uninspired (e.g., a repetitive sleepwalking gag) and there's way too much reliance on physical comedy. Also, it should say something when Jenkins steals every scene from the two leads.
It would be one thing if Ferrell and Reilly were playing immature adults. We've seen that before and it can work. But here, they're actually playing immature children.

What happened to the wicked wit of Anchorman (Ferrell and Adam McKay wrote both movies, along with Talladega Nights)? Even though the plot of Anchorman was just as inane, it was more than saved by hilarious characters and well-developed jokes, and remains one of my favorite comedies. The formula in Step Brothers, unfortunately, seems to be one part character, two parts slapstick, three parts obscenities, a measure of potty humor and (Apatow's contribution I'm sure) a dash of male genitalia.

I know I'll sound like a snob, but is this really acceptable as the best work by America's comic geniuses? It's no wonder the funniest movie of the year so far has come from France.

July 23, 2008

Walker Running at a Full Sprint

Back in April I gushed about the excellent film programming at the Walker Art Center, not nearly enough of which I've been able to see aside from some Global Lens selections and a couple of preview screenings.

Part of the reason it's so difficult is because everytime I turn around there's another series starting. Last week I mentioned The Walker's outdoor film series "Elected!", and already another one is about to launch - one that, like Global Lens, demonstrates how effectively film can enhance our perspective of the world.

Starting tomorrow, July 24th, and continuing through the end of August, the Walker will screen four documentaries as part of its "Cinema of Urgency" series: "This series focuses a documentary lens on some of the world’s most pressing concerns, showing the need for a global perspective on what may appear to be merely individual, or individually American, issues."

  • July 24 (tomorrow): The Judge and the General (FREE)
    • "On September 11, 1973, a coup d’etat against democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende placed the government of Chile in the hands of General Augusto Pinochet. During his brutal 17-year dictatorship, thousands of Chileans were killed, tortured, and went “missing.” Years after the coup, criminal complaints filed by the families of victims landed on the desk of former Pinochet supporter Judge Juan Guzmán, whose investigations, he says, “opened the eyes of my soul.” The filmmakers followed Guzmán for three years in order to make this cautionary tale about the violation of human rights.2008, video, 87 minutes." (Post-screening Q&A with director/producer Farnsworth and editor Blair Gershkow)

  • August 1-3: Flow: For Love of Water
    • "Politics, pollution, and human rights wash into this provocative wake-up call exploring the planet’s coming shortage of drinking water and corporate plans to privatize the delivery of clean water. Inspiring heroes emerge—from African plumbers reconnecting a shantytown’s pipes in the dark of night to a California scientist who exposes dangerous toxin levels.2007, video, 83 minutes. "

  • August 15-16: Secrecy
    • "A compelling documentary peering into the invisible world of government secrecy and its tug-of-war with civil liberties, Secrecy delves into the 1940s origins of the national security policy and its unexpected consequences for contemporary democracy. Filmmakers Peter Galison and Robb Moss (The Same River Twice) utilize animation, installations, a mesmerizing score, and riveting interviews. 2008, video, 85 minutes. A Q&A with the director follows."

  • August 28: The Listening Project (FREE)
    • "The Listening Project is a cinematic journey in search of an answer to the question “What does the world think of America?” Surprisingly nuanced—even contradictory— responses are unearthed from the far reaches of the globe as we see how Americans are citizens of the world, not just their own country. 2007, video, 76 minutes. A Q&A with the directors and “listeners” featured in the film follows."

You can see the trailers for all the documentaries at the Walker blog.

July 22, 2008

REVIEW: Quid Pro Quo (B)

Background: According to producer Sarah Pillsbury (a Minnesota native, like the Dough Boy), writer/director Carlos Brooks discovered Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) by accident one night as he was researching for an upcoming project. While the disorder has already been the subject of the 2003 documentary Whole (by Minnesotan Melody Gilbert), Quid Pro Quo is the first feature length film to focus on it. Starring Nick Stahl (Bully, Terminator 3) and Vera Farmiga (The Departed, Breaking and Entering), Quid Pro Quo had a limited theater release and is being distributed by Mark Cuban's HDNet Films. On a recent trip I saw it featured on a hotel's On Demand service for $19.99, plus tax. Figure that out if you can.

Synopsis : Isaac Knott (Stahl) is a NYC public radio reporter. He's been a wheelchair-bound paraplegic since the age of eight, when he was severely injured in a rural car accident that killed both of his parents. Assigned by a producer to investigate a rumor of healthy individuals privately seeking amputations at local hospitals, Isaac discovers an entire subculture of paraplegic "wannabes". Flora (Farmiga) is one of these individuals, and in the course of seducing Isaac she shows him how she walks around her apartment in body braces and navigates the city in her wheelchair, dutifully practicing for the day she will actually be paralyzed - hopefully with Isaac's help. As their bizarre relationship progresses, Flora becomes desperate and Isaac discovers a very special pair of shoes...all of this culminates in one of the better twist endings of the year.

I Loved:
+ The close up shots of the dew-covered tulips.
+ The underlying suspense flowing through the whole movie, even though I wouldn't consider this a "thriller" in the way that it's marketed.

I Liked:
+ Vera Farmiga, in a role that allowed her to shine more than in some other movies (The Departed, Breaking and Entering, The Manchurian Candidate).
+ The return of Phil LaMarr. You know him from "Mad TV" and Pulp Fiction, but he's apparently been doing only voice acting in video games and animated television since then. Dude, you're a fine actor - get back on screen.

I Disliked:
- Some melodramatic moments, either the result of overacting or underwriting. The visit to Flora's mother's house didn't work for me.
- The ending. That's all I can say without spoiling anything.

I Hated:
- The underground "wannabes" meeting.

Grade:
Writing - 8
Acting - 9
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 43/50= 86% = B

Last Word: I mentioned in my preview of Quid Pro Quo that I attended a screening with producer Sarah Pillsbury in attendance. Growing up blonde in Minnesota, Pillsbury lamented that she didn't feel "special" enough, that she didn't feel like she could separate herself from the crowd. As such, she said she's always been interested in filmmaking that touches on "what we think we deserve."

Ignoring the fact that Pillsbury did not actually write or direct the film, I don't think I can make the connection between blonde hair and BIID quite as easily as she does, even though individuals with this disorder may think they "deserve" to be paraplegics and/or amputees. They're rightly concerned that they may be rejected by society, and to that end Quid Pro Quo appropriately brings the issue to light.

However, while it may be considered an important movie in that sense, I'm concerned about the mindset with which it was produced, despite Pillsbury's assertion that she is "ridiculously politically correct" and that she would be surprised if anyone is offended by it. She herself admitted that her friend, a wheelchair-bound screenwriter, refused to watch Quid Pro Quo. Wouldn't that cause some consideration or reflection on how you're presenting the issue?

I don't think Pillsbury and/or Carlos Brooks are obliged to carefully tiptoe around a film like this, but Pillsbury (Brooks was not in attendance) didn't even seem to be aware of how potentially offensive it could be. That doesn't make Quid Pro Quo a bad movie, but it does mean that it ends up being an intriguing story that just happens to use a controversial issue to develop its twists, rather than a really insightful look at BIID. If you're going to initiate such a discussion, I think you have the responsibility to tell the whole story.

You can interpret for yourself the fact that the documentary Whole is going to be included on the Quid Pro Quo DVD.

July 21, 2008

Taking It Home: The Dark Knight


I know I said that "The Dark Knight is not the type of movie that I see for its moral lessons," but that doesn't mean I don't think about how its elements relate to real life. In fact, of all the superhero/comic book/graphic novel movies that we've had in 2008, I would argue it offers the most interesting material for a study of two ideas in particular: contemporary villains and the glorification of celebrity.

I've only read a handful of reviews in the last two days but I've already seen The Joker compared to everyone from Osama bin Laden to Hannibal Lecter to Darth Vader to Anton Chigurh. These comparisons are hinted at, but then people end up discussing Heath Ledger's already legendary performance instead of the actual existence of the character he's portraying. What I'm getting at is the fact that you could list off a number of baddies in real life or in the movies, but in my opinion, there is no contemporary villain in The Joker’s mold.

For starters, the soulless Joker barely resembles a human. His emotions and actions are wildly unpredictable and he appears to lack any guiding principles or motive aside from promoting anarchy. He kills without thinking and thinks about nothing; by his own admission he is “a dog chasing cars” that wouldn’t know what to with one if he caught one. To be sure, there are some depraved lunatics running around the world, but these aren't the people that could bring a city to its knees like The Joker does to Gotham.

In fact, we don't really have many psycho serial killers at all these days, do we? For whatever reason, the days of the Zodiac killer and David Berkowitz and the Boston Strangler seem to be gone. Instead, modern-day villains are despotic heads of state (Omar al-Bashir and Kim Jong Il) or religious fundamentalists (Muqtada al-Sadr), all of which have their own motives and none of which, I would argue, are as cartoonishly insane as The Joker. For the most part their methods, while often violent, are neither as spontaneous or as spectacularly staged (aside from 9/11) as The Joker's, and defeating them is a highly complex task.

Which brings me to this question: Do we venerate Batman (and other superheroes) because we are hoping for one to materialize in real life and solve the world's problems? I'm not talking about the heroic fantasies little boys have or the romantic notions of a caped crusader swooping down to save the falling woman. I'm talking about our collective acceptance of the idea that superheroes are the only people who can create positive change.

Just look at what happened to the Batman wannabes in The Dark Knight - average citizens trying to do something good in the world are a.) humiliated and scorned, b.) inept at stopping crime, and c.) overshadowed by the real Batman. "That's what I'm talking about," laments the hooligan when the Batmobile (it's more of a tank now, isn't it?) makes a smashing entrance through the garage walls.



Unfortunately, Batman isn't going to show up in real life. We're left with me and you and the bad guys...and these other people: celebrities, the new saviors of our time.

Who's more admired by men and more loved by women (both on screen and in the audience): Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne? Clark Kent or Tony Stark? If you want to talk about real world comparisons from these superhero movies, this is where it is. Celebrity billionaires are the ones we hold up as the brave souls who will take on the evil in the world.

George Clooney (natch, Batman himself at one time) is a "warrior" speaking out against al-Bashir and the genocide in Darfur. Brangelina fights for the environment and the plight of refugees worldwide. Bill Gates and Bono, well at this point they're defined by their humanitarian heroism as much as anything else they've done.

I'm not saying these people are wrong in what they're doing; I'm saying that we're wrong for accepting them as our modern-day heroes in the absence of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and Iron Man. We think about these global issues (or even local issues) too simplistically, always finding someone to blame or someone to uphold while never taking a look in the mirror at we're doing. Who cares what we do wrong - some big shot's going to save the day, right?
Consider the ferry scene to reflect on this as well.

Sorry to say, people, but neither Barack Obama or John McCain is going to roll up in a Batmobile and make everything nice again, and celebrities aren't going to accomplish much beyond building awareness. My expectations for human behavior are idealistically high, but I don't expect more from any of these people than I do from me or you, and I think it can be dangerous to do so. I don't know the solution to everything, but I do know at least that much.

All of this is to say that our fascination with superheroes and villains deserves some reflection outside of the theater. I know this is not a novel idea in any way (it comes up with any superhero movie), but the increasing number of movies like this and the increasing number of complex problems in the world seem to be on the same upward trajectory. What does that mean, and what else did you take home from The Dark Knight?

(Movie) News You Need to Know: KFP & AT

"The Panda That Roared"

As you know by now, Getafilm is not the place to check in for late-breaking news. The story about Kung Fu Panda's controversial success in China has been kicking around for weeks. Richard Bernstein continued the conversation in Sunday's New York Times, though, so I figured it could still hold some interest.

Here's the deal: The movie has been a smashing winner in Chinese cinemas, causing some of the 1.3 billion Chinese to wonder a.) how did the Americans (Dreamworks Animation, in this case) so accurately portray aspects of our culture, and b.) how come we weren't the ones making this movie?

Bernstein brings up two interesting points. First of all, he claims "a continuing historical imbalance in cultural cross-fertilization. The West’s use of China as an artistic setting is unmatched by any Chinese use of Europe or America as backdrops for its own cultural productions." Secondly, he declares that the Chinese are way behind us in animation technology.

I don't necessarily disagree with those claims, but I think all of it really boils down to this bit: "...a different lesson is being drawn from the film’s success, a lesson that goes to the heart of China’s cultural situation, namely that a movie like Kung Fu Panda could have been produced only in an atmosphere of cultural and artistic freedom that China doesn’t enjoy."

Do you agree/disagree? What are the implications if this is true? By the way, make sure you see Up the Yangtze if you haven't already.
_________________________________________________________________

"The High School Years: Still Raw and Unfair"

Also in yesterday's NYT, a Q & A between Karen Durbin and Nanette Bernstein, director of the upcoming documentary American Teen. Although I previewed it after it played at MSPIFF in April, I was looking for another opportunity to plug this film before it comes to Minneapolis next week.

Burnstein doesn't say much more than she did in the Q & A after the MSPIFF screening, and unfortunately she fails to mention that the documentary is not an MTV show about the awkwardness of kids during their high school years. Don't be distracted by the hilarious moments (and there are many of them) - American Teen packs an emotional punch as it touches on themes involving family, independence, and socioeconomic status.

Make the trip to see it at the Lagoon next Friday, August 1.

July 20, 2008

300 Words About: Tell No One

Our protagonist demonstrates the concentration necessary to fully absorb this film.

The French thriller Tell No One is, in addition to being a taut and mostly engaging film, also an example of the kind that may be best experienced as a novel. I haven't read the book by Harlan Coben, but writer/director Guillaume Canet's adaptation of it is so complex that it eventually succumbs to the weight of its details. I'm a pretty perceptive viewer, which is a blessing and a curse. I can pick up on the little details that piece the story together, but I also find it hard to let the little flaws go.

In this case, it was a matter of reconciling the story's timeline and relationships, as well as accepting the fact that some fairly large plot details depended on characters that we learn about for the first time near the end of the film. Everything I've just described is necessary for a good thriller, but for all the mental work we do in getting to the end of this movie, I have to admit I was hoping for a greater reward from Canet.

I don't mean to be sounding this critical of Tell No One; it's worthy of the C
ésar awards it won (including for its outstanding soundtrack), and while the whole film couldn't keep the energy of the first half hour, it still kept my attention for the full 125-minute running time.

For this I applaud the ensemble cast led by François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze (let's forget that she was in Battlefield Earth, she shone in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), and Kristin Scott-Thomas (featuring an impressive fluency in French). Canet even cast himself as one of the film's most disgusting characters. Some sudden adrenaline bursts also help keep the story moving along briskly, including one of the better footchase I've seen in a while (and one that features brilliant cinematography).

I've yet to mention even one detail about the plot. Does that matter? Tell No One is not the kind of movie you see because you're interested in its story, but because you're interested in how that story is told. By that measure it's a success, albeit it a success that I doubt will leave a lasting impression with me.

July 18, 2008

REVIEW: The Dark Knight (A)

Background: While I was hanging out with some friends in Chicago last summer, somebody mentioned how the filming of "the new Batman movie" was causing mass hysteria around their workplace downtown. I didn't think about or hear mention of The Dark Knight again until six months later, when Heath Ledger's sudden death caused an even greater buzz about the movie. Now, six months after that, humanity's anticipation for it has reached a Y2K level that I can't fully comprehend. I joked to my friends while waiting in the midnight line that Knight is going to have a viral reach - I challenge you to find 10 people one week from today who have not seen it. Anyway, you know all of this. Truly, there are too many trivia items to share about the most hyped movie since Revenge of the Sith, and why I didn't choose it in our fantasy league is a total mystery. To catch up on the Batman franchise, go here or here.

Synopsis: After learning that Gotham has a bevy of problems (bank robberies, angry mob bosses, Batman wannabes), we meet our three main characters: The Joker, committed to causing anarchy; idealistic D.A. Harvey Dent (Eckhart), committed to cleaning up the streets and corralling the mob; and Bruce Wayne (Bale), committed to being rich and awesome (and Batman, when called upon). These men form a bizarre triangle involving revenge, justice, love, hate, depression, and costumes. The supporting players come and go, but the action and drama remain within these tenuous relationships, eventually culminating in The Joker threatening to eliminate the city unless Batman reveals his true identity. This leads to a good hour of brooding dialogue, fistfights, explosions, and Batmobile/Batcycle chases. As this is a franchise, there's no real point in discussing more details. This story will keep going until Michael Bay signs on and casts Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne.

I Loved:
+ Heath Ledger's viscerally shocking performance, which has received award buzz since before last year's Oscars (ironically, he died the day last year's nominations were announced). At the very least, a nod for Best Supporting Actor is in the bag.
+ Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, especially in the restaurant scene. The kind of guy that I hate in real life but can love in the movies.
+ The final frame.
+ That a movie rated PG-13 could still contain enough bite and fright (um, Ledger), without the ghoulish gore. Is there a better example?

I Liked:
+ Morgan Freeman, who, with hardly anything to work with, ripped out some of the movie's most memorable scenes. My favorite? Putting the research nerd in his place when he was threatening blackmail.
+ The comedic lines: "I'm a dog chasing cars..."
+ The action sequences, as cluttered as they were. Memo to Hollywood: Less CGI actually makes for better action, unless you're Guillermo Del Toro.

I Disliked:
- The comicy comic book lines: "The night is darkest just before the dawn." Eh.
- Batman's animal-like growl. I don't remember it being that pronounced in Batman Begins, or at least I don't remember the bass being jacked up so high. His voice, even when just talking normally, had the cinematic effect of the T-Rex stomping around in Jurassic Park.

I Hated:
- The makeup effects for Two-Face/Harvey Dent. That looked like a complete rip-off from the "Body Worlds" exhibit, never mind the fact that he would have had a fatal infection within hours. Yeah, I'm ridiculous.
- What else? Goofy fanboys sitting behind me. Shouldn't those people be the most silently reverent of everybody in the theater?

Grade:
Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5
Significance - 4

Total: 47/50= 94% = A

Last Word: As groggy as I was this morning, it didn't take me too long to realize that I not only enjoyed The Dark Knight more than Batman Begins, but more than any of the others before it, including Tim Burton's Batman. That 1989 version may have been the bigger achievement (considering its context and Burton's vision), but it doesn't quite pack the same punch as Knight.

Most of this can be attributed to Heath Ledger, but credit is also due to writer/director Christopher Nolan, who has not only written amazing characters (and wow, what a knockout of a cast again, all of whom brought their "A" game - Bale, Freeman, Eckhart, Gyllenhaal, Caine, and Oldman), but placed them within an actually believable story, at least relative to most comic book/superhero movies.

Would it be a stretch to say that, in this installment, Bruce Wayne is a universally relatable character? Not just for the trillionaires and superheros among us, but for anybody who's ever struggled to give something up and move on to the next stage in their lives. I don't mean that The Dark Knight is a grand parable for humanity that has significant relevance to my life; it is, after all, a movie about a rich guy dressed up in tights and cape fighting a sinister maniac wearing face paint and purple suit. But I do think its story is much richer and much more interesting than any of its 2008 summer peers (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hancock, Hellboy II, etc.).

In any case, The Dark Knight is not the type of movie that I see for its moral lessons, and I'll let others delve more deeply into its symbolism, relation to the other sequels, and place in film history. I'll just declare that it's a summer blockbuster in every way, and probably the only one you'll remember three months from now. Now to make a plan to see it in IMAX...

July 17, 2008

300 Words About: Mamma Mia!

"Everybody, look! There's a man watching this in the theater!"

Since 2000, Hollywood appears to be stuck in an endless cycle of Broadway musical adaptations: Chicago, Rent, Hairspray, Dreamgirls, Sweeney Todd, The Producers, and so on. New musicals open each year, so how can you stop adapting them?

It's a rhetorical question. For the most part I love Broadway musicals, and for the most part I'm indifferent to their movie adaptations, the exception being Rent - which I absolutely loved.

I never saw "Mamma Mia!", so the film version was my first exposure to the musical featuring the songs of ABBA. I went with an open mind, expecting a sing-along crowd and some cringe-worthy silliness from Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård
.

A funny thing happened: I discovered I was not only familiar with more ABBA songs than I realized, but a few of the ones I didn't know actually weren't that bad. I wish I could say the same, however, about the ridiculous story of a fateful wedding and family reunion on a Greek island. Only if you were stranded on such an island with an ABBA album on repeat could you conjure up this campy disco fantasy (who knows - that may well have been what happened). Speaking of the island, there doesn't seem to be an ethnicity, accent, or shade of blue that's not represented, to a distracting degree.

If you're in the mood for pure musical silliness and a movie that can make fun of itself, you'll love Mamma Mia!. If you're not in the mood, well you might end up liking it despite yourself. Even when you have to endure Pierce Brosnan straining for the highest notes of a love ballad, there's always a shiny up-tempo song right behind it. The whole movie kind of works in that way: every flaw is conveniently covered over with countless sequins - and it works.

July 16, 2008

Short Cuts: "The War in Vietnam?"

Forrest Gump (1994). Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Eric Roth (screenplay) and Winston Groom (novel); starring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Robin Wright Penn, Mykelti Williamson, and Sally Field.


July 11, 2008

A Midsummer Night's Screen

I'm in D.C. for a few days this week. Earlier today I was walking through the National Mall and saw a giant screen set up in front of the U.S. Capitol. The HBO logo was plastered all over it along with the phrase "Screen on the Green" and a schedule of upcoming movies. Every Monday for the next five weeks, HBO will show a movie out on the Mall. "Admission" is free, or rather, non-existent.

Most cities have these outdoor movie series during the summer, but I remembered that the six-week version at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (also starting today) is, quite ironically, titled "Elected!"

So in Minneapolis we're screening Duck Soup, The Senator Was Indiscreet, All the King's Men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, State of the Union, and The Manchurian Candidate, while here in D.C. they're going to see Dr. No, The Candidate, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Apartment, and Superman. What gives?

I suppose the political climate in the Beltway is already saturated enough as it is; people here could use a little escape from the endless partisan blather.

But that leads to a question. What makes for a good outdoor movie? Are people going to show up for the Walker screenings (forget about the bands playing beforehand)? I'm just curious, and then I wonder why drive-ins always feature the most awful movies...

So what's the best outdoor movie genre: comedy, drama, fantasy, action, horror, or other?

REVIEW: The Wackness (B)

Background: I have a prediction. The 90's are the new 70's. Watch for several of the following to catch on again in the near future, if they haven't already: tapered jeans, flannel shirts, cassette tapes, Doc Martens, fluorescent colors, slap wristbands, Sega, pagers, Zima, British Knights, Cross Colours, laser tag, and the phrase "word up" (a personal favorite of mine). OK, so I stole a few of those from The Wackness, which I previewed after it played at MSPIFF. Eat my shorts if you have a problem with that. Psyyych! Alright, anyway, Jonathan Levine (All the Girls Love Mandy Lane) is getting "this party started right" with his semi-autobiographical film starring Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley (Gandhi...sigh...The Love Guru), and Olivia Thirlby (Snow Angels, Juno). Also making appearances are Mary-Kate Olsen and Method Man, who believe it or not has already appeared in a film in 2008. The Wackness, one of my sleepers in the Getafilm Box Office Moguls League, was the Audience Award winner at Sundance last January.

Synopsis: It's the hot summer of 1994, and New York City is undergoing an identity change with the arrival of street-sweeping mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The year is 1994. Luke Shapiro (Peck), is a dope-dealing dreamer whose closest confidant is a shrink, Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Kingsley). Squires happens to be both the father of Luke's crush, Stephanie (Thirlby), and also Luke's most loyal customer, exchanging fluffy advice for dimebags once a week. Luke and Stephanie have just graduated high school (Class of 1994), and Luke needs to figure out what to do with his life. When not daydreaming about life away from his detached parents, Luke pals around with Squires or Stephanie, making trouble or making love, depending on the person. As the drug and alcohol-fueled summer of 1994 comes to an end, we find out if Luke has learned how to see the "dope" side of life - and if he's put his trust in the right Squires. (Don't forget, it takes place in 1994).

I Loved:
+ The soundtrack. Wow, how could you not?A Tribe Called Quest, The Notorious B.I.G., Method Man, Raekwon, KRS-One,
and, of course, Mott the Hoople.
+ Ben Kingsley, who's never seen a role he didn't like. Long-haired and strung-out, this one somehow works.

I Liked:
+ Josh Peck and Olivia Thirlby, individually and as a couple, they were perfectly cast in these roles. Watch for Thirlby's stock to rise sky high after this one.
+ The graffiti and other graphic stylings.

I Disliked:
- Mary-Kate Olsen.
- The darkness over every frame. I don't know if this was a style decision (a lens filter) or a technical issue (bad lighting), but it was annoying either way. Or wait, was that how it looked in 1994?
- Method Man and his "Jamaican" accent. Jamaican me roll my eyes.

I Hated:
- Jonathan Levine's obsessive referencing of the year 1994 - the music, the language, the clothes, the news, the city, and on and on and on. This isn't a period piece. It's 14 years ago.

Grade:
Writing - 7
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 4

Total: 43/50= 86% = B

Last Word: It should say something about a movie when the soundtrack jumps out at you as the highlight. As with The Wackness, the sum never quite equals the parts. Take away the music and the cool graphics and the nostalgia, and it's a fairly bland story. Don't get me wrong, it was fun in the sense that I chuckled here and there and was moderately entertained, but for an original story it lacks emotional depth and even a bit of real world relevance. We're supposed to see the "dope" side of life and not the "wack" side? It's a cute phrase, but a little too immature if you're trying to send any type of meaningful message.

I don't know if that was Levine's motive here, though. This is partly his life story, after all, and it's a tale of young love that most anyone can relate to. He gets extra points for the music and the clever styles thrown in here and there, but the writing gets a little tired and the ending felt rushed. So I guess I'm saying that there are unfortunately just enough flaws to overshadow the good stuff.

As The Wackness's Sundance win overlapped with Juno's road to Oscar glory (quick, name the 10 best movies of 2007 - where's Juno?), comparisons between the two have jumped up all over the place. As far as I'm concerned, the only similarity they share is the song "All the Young Dudes", which, as it happens, was also used in another teen movie: 1995's Clueless. Was it meant to be yet another 90's reference?

While i
t's an entertaining departure for a hot summer night, there just isn't enough dopeness in The Wackness to set it apart from the scads of other coming-of-age movies these days. See it to appreciate the music and the cast (and to, ahem, help my box office numbers), but then get with the times.

300 Words About: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Side effects of drinking Tecate Light may include ruby red skin and a violent temper.

On a scale of 1 to 10, my desire to see Hellboy II: The Golden Army went from zero a few months ago, to five in the last few weeks, to seven in the last few days, and, finally, to eight as I was taking my seat. I haven't seen the first Hellboy, you see, but the right people had been championing it as the right mix of fantasy, action, and comedy.

Based on the sequel I would say they're, well, absolutely right, especially about that last bit. In fact I don't know of a film in this "genre" that has been this funny since Men In Black - which it turns out actually wasn't that funny, as much as TBS insists it was. As the title character, Ron Perlman (work much, dude?) is hilarious, and his sidekick Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, who is on thin ice here having been in two of my top 5 worst movies ever) has all the polite charm of an aquatic C-3PO.

I'm making Hellboy II sound like a comedy, which, while true, can distract from the other highly impressive aspect of this film: the stunning visual effects and production design, thanks to director Guillermo Del Toro, master of the underworld. Although I was a little disappointed to see such obvious similarities to the sets and characters of his Pan's Labyrinth, Del Toro has to be considered a leading visionary in producing terrestrial creatures.

Increasingly, his attachment to direct the upcoming Hobbit movies is sounding more and more enticing. Seeing these creatures in action is an even more amazing spectacle, and the killer beanstalk scene halfway through Hellboy II puts to shame every similar moment in Cloverfield, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk.

Unfortunately, it's after that scene that Hellboy II starts to lose momentum, turning into a somewhat predictable race against time/climactic battle (don't forget the movie's subtitle). We can enjoy the effects along the way, but we also start to notice that we're just not having as much fun anymore, or at least not as many laughs. I can't go too far in tackling the plot as I'm ignorant of both the original film and comic book, but suffice it to say, I'll mostly be looking forward to Hellboy III for its visual wonders.

Even so, I somehow ended up enjoying this one more than any of the other superhero movies of the summer so far. Whaddya got, Batman?

REVIEW: Encounters at the End of the World (A-)

Background: The buildup to Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World has been almost as strange as the subject of the film itself. After seeing it as the closing night selection of the MSP Int'l Film Festival earlier this year, I had very little to work with in writing my preview. In the months since then, there still hasn't been much buzz about it, at least outside of the interwebs (excluding the film's own website, which is in every way terrible). I suspect the lack of attention is because on the surface, Encounters looks like an extended episode of "NOVA" or "Planet Earth". I get that, but do people realize that a.) Werner Herzog made it, and b.) the film is a love letter to legendary critic Roger Ebert? See Ebert's response to the dedication here.

Synopsis: Almost right off the bat, Herzog tells us he's not out to make another film "about penguins." Instead, he says he's interested in the rather bizarre subculture of scientists that live in Antarctica. I could try to list them all but let's just say they all end in "-oligist", and most would require 5-7 spelling attempts. But there are other types of people down there as well: plumbers, divers, linguists (there's no language here - get it?), forklift driver/philosophers, etc. Herzog doesn't really even bother focusing on the place that is Antarctica, at least not outside of the interviews with this motley band of adventurers, but we somehow still end up knowing a lot more than we did going into it.

I Loved:
+ The underwater tracking shot - you'll know it when you see it. Currently, it's the most mesmerizing scene I've seen in any film this year. I was in a trance.
+ The interviews with the iceberg tracker, the scuba diving cell biologist, and the quirky lady who stuffs herself in a duffel bag.
+ The tragically hilarious shot of the penguin wandering off.

I Liked:
+ Herzog's narration, equally irritating and endearing. When he talks I always feel like I'm listening to someone tell me a fairy tale.
+ The interviews with the royal plumber and the seal experts.

I Disliked:
- The last quarter of the film, which lagged a bit for me despite the exploding volcano.
- That a number of the scientific concepts went way over my head. That might have been the point, but I felt like I should have been taking notes for a test when the lights came up.

I Hated:
- The horrifying creatures that live at the bottom of the sea. I have enough trouble in an aquarium, so this was a little uncomfortable.

Grade:
Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 27/30= 90% = A-

Last Word: Here's where I admit that I haven't seen nearly enough of Werner Herzog's films. But here's where I also submit that in the case of Encounters at the End of the World, it doesn't really matter that much. What he's presented requires only an adventurous attitude and a little curiosity about a place that nobody reading this has ever been. Herzog takes care of the rest, livening it up with just the right subjects and mostly the right questions. The frequent Gregorian chants and choral hymns in the background make Antarctica seem even more majestic than it looks in the beautiful shots above and below the icy landscape.

Despite his jokey questions that introduce the film, I don't think Herzog had a very clear motive in making Encounters. If he asked in 2005's Grizzly Man, "What is the nature of man's relationship to animals?," I suppose the question here would be, "What is the nature of man's relationship to the elements of this planet?" But as much as I enjoyed all of the interviews, I wonder if Herzog's work doesn't shine a little brighter when he focuses all his energy on one person. Doing that may have taken away from the bigger picture, however, as it would have been impossible to be in place like that and not turn the camera on the next person that walked by.

Those people down there at the end of the world are humans, after all, (even though Herzog describes them as "professional dreamers" and documents them like animals in the wild). In his amusing few minutes on camera, linguist William Jirsa may describe it best: "if you take everyone who is not tied down, they fall down to the bottom of the planet." In that sense, then, Herzog has not only given us a better understanding of this mysterious Earth, but he's given us, ultimately, a better understanding of ourselves.

July 10, 2008

(Movie) News You Need to Know: The Darkest Part of the Night

"Many Movie Theaters Decide to Leave the Bat Signal on Till Dawn"

(I'm going to end up sounding a lot crabbier than I intend to here.)

In yesterday's New York Times, Michael Cieply reported on the unprecedented decision to screen next week's The Dark Knight for a 24-hour period beginning next Thursday night at midnight. Unless you've been on Mars for the last year, you know that the Batman sequel of course opens wide on Friday.

Here's my concern: the opening weekend experience is becoming more diluted and less exciting. Cieply reports "midnight shows have become part of the summer blockbuster ritual", which is true in one sense but not in another. My memory tells me that they started in earnest with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I don't know if that's true, but either way, yes, most summer blockbusters get this treatment now.

But so do non-blockbusters outside of the summer months. There's hardly a Thursday night at any local cineplex that isn't screening a new romantic comedy or action fantasy, regardless of the buzz and regardless of whether it's January or June.

So this leads into my next question: if people don't see it at midnight, does that mean they're not going to see it at all? Is that the concern, and is that why they've added 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM screenings of the The Dark Knight?

It's an event. I get that. We live in an age where "Harry Potter" books are released at midnight and video game releases cause riots. There's nothing inherently wrong with advance screenings. I just think it's pretty special to still see sell-outs. Have a midnight screening a few times a year for the big ones, fine. Demand will be massive. Those who don't get tickets immediately will have to see it, horror of horrors, on "opening night" (which is either nonexistent or the best definition, depending on how you look at it).

And let's get the other little ant out of my pants. If I'm anticipating a movie for months on end, do I really want to watch it for the first time at 3:00 AM, when the audience will either be snoring or on the collective verge of cardiac arrest due to sugar and caffeine overdoses?

Like I said, I'm sounding a lot more negative than I mean to. As it happens, I'm seeing The Dark Knight on Thursday at 12:00 AM...

What are your thoughts on this trend?



2008 Asian American International Film Festival


In other news, the 31st Asian American International Film Festival opens today in New York. From the press release:

"With groundbreaking new programming and an eye for innovation, the Asian American International Film Festival ’08 will open on Thursday, July 10 with the East Coast debut of Princess of Nebraska, from acclaimed director Wayne Wang. The Centerpiece Presentation will be on Thursday, July 17 with the U.S. premiere of The Speed of Life by director Ed Radtke. The Festival will close on Saturday, July 19 with Ping Pong Playa from Academy Award-winning director Jessica Yu."

Maybe check it out if you're in New York. These festivals are you usually ignored at the viewer's expense. The AAIFF has previously been the occasion for the U.S. premiers of films from directors such as Mira Nair and Ang Lee. Besides that, I don't think Asian-American filmmakers (maybe aside from Justin Lin) have enough exposure in Hollywood.

More info can be found in festival director Sonjia Hyon's post on PBS' P.O.V. blog.
Related Posts with Thumbnails