Film Essent Archive for September, 2009

Tinsel

My old high school pal Hank Stuever, who’s written for the Washington Post‘s Style section for a long time, has written one excellent book, Off Ramp: Adventures and Heartache in the American Elsewhere, and has a new book, Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present, coming out November 12 (just in time for your Christmas shopping!).
Hank writes with humor, warmth and great insight about real people and places, and he has a remarkable talent for finding the extraordinary in what seems, on the surface, to be commonplace. He posted a heartfelt, frustrated and, at times, angry piece on his blog, Tonsil, about the issues authors face in getting their books seen and sold.
Even if you’re lucky enough to have a publisher and a book deal, he writes, an author still has to get out there and push and promote his baby in the cold, hard world if he hopes to not have it whither away into obscurity. Although Hank’s publisher has arranged his book tour, he’s still largely responsible himself for getting to the tour stops and promoting himself and his book to get people to come out for his readings. And this is a guy with a book being published by a reputable publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Honestly, I had no idea. But it sure reminds me of what indie filmmakers face in trying to get their babies seen and reviewed after pouring their heart, soul and limited bank accounts into making their films. So many talented people I know are creating amazing art — films, music, books — and just struggle and struggle to ever have it go anywhere. Society needs art and philosophy and films and books and music, but does so little to support those who have the creativity and talent to bring such things to life. It makes me sad.
As a regular reader of Hank’s excellent writing at the Post, and having read and absolutely loved Off Ramp, I can highly recommend Tinsel to anyone looking for a good book to give a friend or family member (or yourself, for that matter) for Christmas. (And for the record, Hank did not ask me to write about his book. I just believe in his writing and think he’s a marvelous author whose work very much deserves support and readership.) We who work in fields related to the arts need to support each other as much as we can … but just the same, I wouldn’t recommend Hank’s book if I wasn’t quite certain that it will be every bit as good as everything else he writes.
Best of luck with your new baby, Hank.

Jennifer's Body: Good Feminist Horror, or Just a Bad Film?

What with all the being sick lately, I didn’t get to catch Jennifer’s Body, but I have been keeping up with the reviews of the film. One of my favorite defenses of it so far can be found on the site Girldrive, in a thoughtful, well-written post titled “Jennifer’s Body and the feminists who hate it.”
In this piece, the author both defends the film and enumerates the reasons she feels it’s been inappropriately attacked by some critics (in particular, she takes issue with critics she feels are bashing the film as an extension of the ever-popular post-Juno Diablo Cody bashing).
I was led to the piece by Mary Ann Johanson, writing a weekly roundup for Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Johanson’s take on the Girldrive piece was very different from mine; she concludes her writeup with this: “And for me, or any feminist, to suggest that I must support any movie, no matter how good or bad it is, merely because women made it, is ridiculous.”
I don’t believe that was the point of the author at Girldrive at all. In fact, she explicitly says, “And I’m not implying that women should get off easy–just that they shouldn’t be written off after 31 years on earth and a meager two screenplays. Maybe Cody just wanted to have some campy, squeal-inducing fun. I’d argue that she succeeded, without exploiting young women or killing them off in rapid succession. Considering the sizeable chick carnage of other recent teen girl horror movies, that’s actually pretty radical.
I haven’t seen Jennifer’s Body yet, so can’t weigh in one way or the other on whether I think it rocks or sucks, but I’d love to hear some input from those of you who have seen it. Radical feminist horror manifesto, or just more annoyingly trendy, overly Diablospeak wrapped around a not-so-great attempt to deconstruct the horror genre?
Weigh in, film freaks.

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Cloudy with a Chance of Michael Jackson, Jim Carrey and the Mad Hatter

I’m spending a nice, quiet weekend with the kids after returning from Toronto, and since they were itching to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, that’s what we did. I thought the movie itself was okay, but not great. The socio-political slant was a little too close to the much better WALL-E for me, and I’m still pretty firmly in the “3-D is kind of overrated” camp. And I thought Up was a far, far superior film in every respect.
We did see some cool trailers the kids got excited about. Surprisingly, they all want to see the Michael Jackson rehearsal footage movie. Perhaps less surprisingly, since I came of age during Michael Jackson’s Thriller era, I want to see it too.
All the kids in the theater oohed, ahhed and laughed out loud over the trailer for A Christmas Carol, and my brood wasn’t alone in reaching out to grab snowflakes. Response was a bit more muted from the kiddie set for Alice in Wonderland, but the adults in the crowd seemed excited about that one. I thought it looked awesome, myself.

TIFF 2009 Dispatch: Ready, Set, Show

I got into Toronto late last night. Getting in after 9PM actually isn’t a bad time to arrive, as I’d seen a lot of Tweets about long customs lines earlier in the day. After 9PM, though, it was pretty dead — and as an added bonus, I actually had a customs officer with a bit of a sense of humor and an interest in film, so once she learned why I was here, she zipped me on through.
Today’s the first day of screenings, and already my schedule is packed. I’m the primary person reviewing films at the fest for MCN, and I’ve been charged with seeing and writing about as many films as humanly possible over the next 8 1/2 or so days before I head back to Seattle and real life. This fest can be brutal — a fellow fest junkie always reminds me that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” to which I inevitably reply, “No, it’s a marathon in which you have to spring from start to finish.”
This year, I’ll be covering a different slate of films than I’m used to covering at this fest; my other times here I was expected to cover as many of the “big name” films as possible, and if I was lucky, I could maybe sneak in a few obscure foreigns here and there. This time around, I’ll be covering a lot more of the obscure stuff that I’m not likely to get a chance to see elsewhere — the great little films without distribution (yet).
In my experience, sifting through the lesser-known films like these tends to yield a higher ratio of interesting films, so I’m excited to delve deep into foreign cinema to my heart’s content. I’m figuring I can see and review roughly 32 films in this time frame, of which I expect a small percentage to be bigger films or films that had buzz coming out of Cannes, and most to be films you likely haven’t even heard about. It’s going to be a cinematic adventure, and I hope you enjoy going along for the ride with me.
Today’s slate: Hotel Atlantico, Dogtooth, Vision … and (hopefully I’ll still have the energy for it) City of Life and Death, followed by nibbling some protein while writing until my vision blurs and I’m falling asleep at the keyboard. Tomorrow’s schedule kicks off earlier, so I need to knock off by at least 2AM so I can hopefully squeeze in a full six hours sleep to see me through another busy day.
If you’re here at TIFF, I hope to run into you at a screening, and if you’re not, I hope you enjoy reading about the films and the fest.

Back to the Game

Getting back into the writing swing after a month just doing behind-the-scenes work while I took some time off to deal with moving my dad from Oklahoma City to Seattle.
In other news, there’s a press screening Friday for Agnes Varda’s Beaches of Agnes, which I’ve been dying to see forever, so I don’t even have to wait until Toronto to be excited about a film! Look for a writeup of Beaches of Agnes over the weekend, and I’ll be getting back into posting more regularly now that I’m settled back into real life. And yes, I’ll be at Toronto, running frantically to screenings. If you’re going, I’ll see you there.
It’s good to be back.

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“When books become a thing, they can no longer be fine.

“Literary people get mad at Knausgård the same way they get mad at Jonathan Franzen, a writer who, if I’m being honest, might be fine. I’m rarely honest about Jonathan Franzen. He’s an extremely annoying manI have only read bits and pieces of his novels, and while I’ve stopped reading many novels even though they were pretty good or great, I have always stopped reading Jonathan Franzen’s novels because I thought they were aggressively boring and dumb and smug. But why do I think this? I didn’t read him when he was a new interesting writer who wrote a couple of weird books and then hit it big with ‘The Corrections,’ a moment in which I might have picked him up with curiosity and read with an open mind; I only noticed him once, after David Foster Wallace had died, he became the heir apparent for the Great American Novelist position, once he had had that thing with Oprah and started giving interviews in which he said all manner of dumb shit; I only noticed him well after I had been told he was An Important Writer.

“So I can’t and shouldn’t pretend that I am unmoved by the lazily-satisfied gentle arrogance he projects or when he is given license to project it by the has-the-whole-world-gone-crazy development of him being constantly crowned and re-crowned as Is He The Great American Writer. What I really object to is this, and if there’s anything to his writing beyond it, I can’t see it and can’t be bothered. Others read him and tell me he’s actually a good writer—people whose critical instincts I have learned to respect—so I feel sure that he’s probably a perfectly fine, that his books are fine, and that probably even his stupid goddamned bird essays are probably also fine.

“But it’s too late. He has become a thing; he can’t be fine.”
~ Aaron Bady

“You know how in postproduction you are supposed to color-correct the picture so everything is smooth and even? Jean-Luc wants the opposite. He wants the rupture. Color and then black and white, or different intensities of color. Or how in this film, sometimes you see the ratio of the frame change after the image begins. That happens when he records from his TV onto his old DVCAM analog machine, which is so old we can’t even find parts when it needs to be repaired. The TV takes time to recognize and adjust to the format on the DVD or the Blu-ray. Whether it’s 1:33 or 1:85. And one of the TVs he uses is slower than the other. He wants to keep all that. I could correct it, but he doesn’t want me to. See, here’s an image from War and Peace. He did the overlays of color—red, white, and blue—using an old analog video effects machine. That’s why you have the blur. When I tried to redo it in digital, I couldn’t. The edges were too sharp. And why the image jitters—I don’t know how he did that. Playing with the cable maybe. Handmade. He wants to see that. It’s a gift from his old machine.”
~ Fabrice Aragno