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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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