Film Essent Archive for February, 2009

Fun with 3-D Trailers

Last night, I went to the midnight screening of Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience, which you can read all about over here, if you’re so inclined. What was almost more interesting to me than the movie — forgive me, experience — itself, though, was the spate of 3-D previews that preceded the film. It was kind of like an extended animated warm-up act for the Big Show, and some of the previews were more interesting than others.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, due for release now in July, looks promisingly dark and scary, as it should, given the nature of the storyline. I unabashedly love the Harry Potter books and have read the entire series multiple times. Half-Blood Prince is directed by David Yates, who did a solid job with the previous film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and is set to direct the two-part series finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts I and II. The trailer looks great, and with every film I’m struck by how much the three young leads — Daniel Radcliffe in particular — have grown through the series, not just physically, which of course one would expect, but in their range of acting skills. Can’t wait for July 17, and you can bet I’ll be at the midnight early screening with my daughter for that one.
There was a trailer for Monsters Vs. Aliens, which my pack of kids are eager to see, and also a trailer for G-Force, which, on the surface, sounds pretty banal — a squad of super-intelligent, special forces … guinea pigs (and a fly) try to save the world from an evil rich guy. And yet, my interest was piqued when I saw that Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot are listed in the “screenplay” credits, along with Tim Firth (who penned the smart Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots before tackling Confessions of a Shopaholic). Marianne and Cormac Wibberly, the screenwriting husband-and-wife team responsible for the scripts for both National Treasure Films and the 2006 remake of The Shaggy Dog are also credited, which would be concerning, but the presence of Rossio, Elliot and Firth does give one hope that it won’t completely suck.
There’s an all-star cast voicing the admittedly cute super-guinea pigs, including Nic Cage, Penelope Cruz, Sam Rockwell, Bill Nighy, Steve Buscemi and more, and the animation looks pretty spiffy, so hopefully it will end up being better than it looks based on the pitch. Not that you can (or should) judge a film just by its trailer, anymore than you can judge a film by it’s script, but this one might be cute.

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MoMA to Showcase Ramin Bahrani's Films

If you live in New York City and you’ve not had a chance to see Ramin Bahrani’s films, now’s your chance. Bahrani won the Spirit Awards’ Someone to Watch Award last year, and this year Chop Shop was nominated for Spirit Awards for both direction and cinematography; Roger Ebert featured Man Push Cart in his 2006 Overlooked Film Festival (also known as Ebertfest), and Chop Shop will play at Ebertfest 2009, coming up in April.
Bahrani’s newest film, Goodbye Solo, which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival before playing the Toronto International Film Festival last September, is opening March 27 in New York City at the Angelika (roll-out to other cities to follow).
Leading up to the opening, the Museum of Modern Art is screening all Bahrani’s films. Here are the screening times, so you can mark your calendars:
Wednesday, March 4th: MAN PUSH CART 615pm & CHOP SHOP 8:15pm
Thursday, March 5th: GOODBYE SOLO 7pm (Bahrani will attend for intro and Q&A)
Friday, March 6th: CHOP SHOP 6pm
Saturday, March 7th: MAN PUSH CART 6pm
If you’re not in NYC, but you are going to SXSW, Goodbye Solo is playing at the fest on March 16th and 19th.
I’ve written before about how much I love this filmmaker’s work, and I want to take the opportunity now to talk about all these films. Bahrani, in his first three films, has worked with themes of immigrants, poverty, outsiders, and surviving on the fringes of society, and each of the films explores these themes through unique, interesting characters, symbolism and a vaguely open-ended conclusion that leaves it to the viewer to project what arc the characters will continue to take off the screen.

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Mr. Hollywood and the Women

Sex sells, as evidenced week after week by the box office charts, in which movies that feature scantily clad or nude women, or women as objects of sexual pursuit, consistently bring in the bank.
Is it the fault of the male-dominated studio system for continually churning out films in which women are relegated to subordinate roles within a patriarchal framework? Or is it the fault of the men and women in the viewing audience, who shell out the cash to support such movies at the box office to the tune of millions of dollars in gross, that such films continue to be made? Put more broadly, do movies help determine and perpetuate gender roles, or are they merely reflecting the reality of the world in which they exist?

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We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do

Well, well. The Spirits are wrapped, and I didn’t do too well with my predictions: I got 4 out of 11 right (Best Feature, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor). A lot of people thought Dustin Lance Black would get the Best First Screenplay award for Milk and they, as it turned out, were right. The Wrestler won Best Feature, Best Actor and Best Cinematography, which hopefully will ease the sting of the film being shut out of all but the acting categories by Oscar. Whether Rourke’s win is indicative of the likelihood that he’ll beat out Sean Penn tomorrow night for the Oscar is anybody’s guess, but my money is still on Rourke.
Not that I would gamble on the Oscars, of course. That wouldn’t be right.

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It's a Music Fest! It's a Film Fest! It's Jewlicious!

If I was Jewish (or even if I wasn’t), and I lived in or near Long Beach, California, I know where I’d be next weekend: the 5th annual Jewlicious Music Festival, Film Festival and Spiritual gathering, which will feature, among other things, an appearance by Jewish reggae artist Matisyahu.
New to this year’s fest: a short film competition for young filmmakers ages 18-26. The top ten films with the most votes from the public will make the finals, with the winner being determined by a panel of Jewish TV and film professionals. There will be lots of other music, from hip-hop to traditional European and other programming including meditation, yoga and discussions with Jewish filmmakers, artists and writers.
Also? There will be feasts, “locally procured,” and challah baking! Me, I’d go just for the feasting, the challah and the music, but it would be interesting to check out the short films by all these young Jewish filmmakers as well. You never know what promising new filmmaker you might uncover at a little fest like this. The fest website has their full line-up, so you can check out all the Jewlicious goodness the fest has in store.

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Not Guilty?

From the “shocking but true” files … the three men accused of murdering Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, known for her outspoken criticism of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s policies in Chechnya, were acquitted by a Moscow jury. Politkovskaya was featured in the 2005 documentary Coca: The Dove from Chechnya and, more recently, in Sundance entry 211:Anna.

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Mr. Misogyny

While naked-celeb site Mr. Skin pisses me off on a regular basis by dint of its mere existence, their annual Anatomy Awards take the cake for objectifying women in the movie business. Boy, this site is really raising the bar on intellectual discussion of cinema, what with their awards categories like “Breast Picture,” “Best Oscar-Nominated Nudity” (that one, by the way, includes Changeling for its insane asylum shower scene, so I have to add as a side note: If you are watching Changeling to get off on this scene, you need serious help), “Best Boobs,” “Best Butt” and more.
I suppose if you’re a guy living in his mother’s basement on a diet of milkshakes, burgers and pork rinds who doesn’t have relationships with real women and, therefore, completely lacks the opportunity to have sex with any woman you don’t have to inflate first and clean up with bleach water after, there’s a certain value in a site like Mr. Skin that tells you exactly when in a given movie you’re going to get to see a naked actress. Or if you’re a 12-year-old boy coming to terms with his hormones for the first time, and therefore watch movies like The Wrestler or The Reader solely because they have nekkid women in them.
I can’t imagine why kind of man with any degree of maturity or intellect would actually frequent a site like Mr. Skin, but if you happen to be a Mr. Skin member and consider yourself otherwise to be an intelligent person, and you’d like to offer a reasoned defense of the site and what it represents in the comments, go for it.
(Note to perverts, imbeciles and general trolls: “Tits and ass OWN!!!!” doesn’t count as either reasoned or intelligent.)

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Two Lovers

Amidst all the hoopla over Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre Letterman appearance, I’d like to take a moment to talk about something nicer: the movie Phoenix is ostensibly doing interviews to promote, James Gray’s Two Lovers. I saw Two Lovers back at Cannes, and it was one of my favorites of the fest.
It’s a beautiful, thoughtful film, well acted by Phoenix and the two women he has to choose from: Gwyneth Paltrow as the blonde, lovely shikseh to Leonard’s neurotic Jew and Vinessa Shaw as the plainer, nice Jewish girl whose father wants to broker a business deal with Leonard’s dad. Isabella Rosellini has a heart-wrending turn as Leonard’s mom, the one person who both understands her son and encourages him to pursue the path that will make him happy.
Phoenix is at his best as the tormented Leonard, who has to make a choice between two lovers and the two paths each choice would lead him down while Gray deftly manuveurs the ups and downs of Leonard’s manic-depressive personality as he pursues relationships with both Sandra and Michelle.
Two Lovers is a great Valentine’s date film, especially if you and your mate or date are sick of romantic comedies. Grey’s film is insightful and smar. Michelle (Paltrow) is edgy and fun, and when he’s with her, Leonard lets lose his inner wild side in a way we never see in any other aspect of his life; his moments with Michelle he’s living life in technicolor, and the rest of his life is shades of grey. Sandra (Shaw)reflects the pull Leonard feels to live an ordinary life, in particular, to live a life where he’s not teetering on the edge of falling apart.
And Leonard is falling apart, following the loss of the woman he loved and was engaged to marry, when they both tested positive for the gene that causes Tay Sachs syndrome. He’s a fractured man, and the two women who come into his life, the choices he makes, and the experiences he has with each of them, ultimately shape the path he goes down.
Phoenix’s performance is so good, it makes you feel both sad and intrigued about whatever the hell path he’s on right now, be it performance art, or an elaborate hoax, or a tragic unraveling of a talented actor. I loved him in this film. If everyone who’s watched the Letterman thing on YouTube would go out and see Phoenix in Two Lovers this weekend, the film would make some serious bank.

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Wonderland

It’s a frustrating aspect of seeing a lot of films on the fest circuit that you very often find a film you really love, only to have it languish in the netherworld of distribution forever. It happened with 2007 Sundance fave Son of Rambow, which took forever to get released due to rights issues over its use of footage from Rambo, and with Teeth, another 2007 Sundance entry, which finally got a limited release a year later before going to DVD.
The excellent 2007 Sundance entry Four Sheets to the Wind, directed by Sterlin Harjo, won the Best Actress award at the fest that year for lead actress Tamara Podemski (shared with Teeth lead actress Jess Weixler), but the film never got distribution and disappeared completely. Sweet Mud, which won the Crystal Bear at Berlin and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, was never seen in the US off the fest circuit.

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Oxford Film Festival Wrap

This past weekend I attended the Oxford Film Festival, for which I served on the docs jury, participated on a panel on film criticism, led a Q&A, and enjoyed the marvelous Southern hospitality. Oxford is one of my favorite small-town film fests; they work hard to bring interesting films to this college town, the all-volunteer festival staff goes all out to take care of their guests, and the Southern comfort food is plentiful and delicious.
Collectively, I think the jurors, panelists and filmmakers consumed about 89,000,000 calories at the Ajax Diner in the Square (Oxford’s social center); this restaurant is a favorite with fest guests for its reasonable prices and generous servings of excellent comfort food: chicken and dumplings, cheese-stuffed meatloaf, fried catfish, sqaush, broccoli-and-rice and sweet potato casseroles, fried okra, mac & cheese and jalapeno cornbread. It’s like going to one of those old-timey church socials where all the town womenfolk competed against each other to bring the best dish for the potluck table — everything is homemade and tastes sinfully delicious.

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Honeybunny

Two kids re-create the diner scene from Pulp Fiction for a competition at the Oxford Film Festival. Funny stuff…

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The Recession and You

At the Santa Barbara airport: an ad from a local magazine, chock full of ads for ridiculously overpriced products. Someone didn’t get the memo about the economy …
(Note: The prices in the ad were hard to see, so I enhanced them, with my commentary, for your reading pleasure …)
SB_ad.jpg

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Santa Barbara: Wrapping Up

Saturday I caught a couple of panels and tributes at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. First up was the “Movers and Shakers” producer panel, moderated by Patrick Goldstein and featuring Jim Morris (Wall-E), Neda Armian (Rachel Getting Married), Dan Jinks (Milk), Christian Colson (Slumdog Millionaire) and Charles Roven (The Dark Knight/Get Smart). I was on the fence about making it to this panel, but I’m glad I showed up for it, because it proved to be both informative and interesting.
The insights these people had around the way movies are managed was fascinating, in particular Morris talking about the difference between producing an animated film with a lengthy production schedule and pre-set budget versus the different skill set of producing an independent film or even a studio blockbuster, and Armian talking about what it’s like to work with Jonathan Demme. My favorite quote of the panel: “No one says when they’re seven, ‘I want to produce movies when I grow up.'” Probably very true … but what a fascinating career to fall into.

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Santa Barbara Dispatch Day Three

I got a little busy here in Santa Barbara, so catching up. Here’s Day Three …
Friday we caught two films. First up was Necessities of Life, the Canadian Oscar submission for best foreign film. I’d heard many good things about this film, so when I saw it was on the SBIFF slate I added it to my schedule right away, and I’m glad I did — what a moving, original tale.

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook