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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“Most of these women were in their early twenties. Most of them refused to go any further with him, but a few went to dinner, or to some sort of casting situation, or to someplace private… if the stories were just about some crazed sex addict who approaches thousands of women on the street trying to get laid, I wouldn’t be posting this now. I don’t want to be attacking every Hollywood douchebag who hits on countless women. That type of behavior isn’t cool, but I think it’s important to separate douchebaggery from any kind of sexual coercion. But the women I talked to who DID go someplace private with Toback, told stories that were worse than the women only accosted on the street… So I did what I could do in my impotent state – for over twenty years now, I’ve been bringing up James Toback every chance I could in groups of people. I couldn’t stop him, but I could warn people about him… I’ve been hoping the Weinstein/O’Reilly stuff would bring this vampire into the light (him and a couple others, frankly). So I was happy today to wake up to this story in the L. A. Times.”
~ James Gunn

“BATTLE OF THE SEXES: Politics and queerness as spectacle/spectacle as politics and queerness. Pretty delightful, lovely, erotic. A-

“Not since EASY A and CABARET have I seen Emma Stone give a real sense of her range. Here, she has pathos and interiority and desire. I love the cinematography and the ways in which the images of the tennis icons are refracted and manipulated via various surfaces/mediators. Also, wild how a haircut is one of the most erotic scenes in cinema this year. Spine tinglingly tactile that feels refreshing. Proof that *cough* you don’t need to be ~graphic/explicit~ to be erotic *cough*. Also, it made me want to get into tennis. Watching it, at least.

“There are interesting touches and intimations as to the cinematic nature of sports, & unpacking the formal approach of broadcasting sports.Also, I was here for Sarah Silverman smoking. And also, hi Mickey Sumner!! It’s a really interesting film about the ways in which public spectacle is never apolitical, and how spectacle is prone to assignation.

“There’s this one other scene from BATTLE OF THE SEXES that I love, and it’s the one in the bar. You see Billie looking after Marilyn as she dances. Through a crowd. There’s a paradoxical closeness and distance between them. In the purple light, and the kitschy decor, everything is distorted. But Billie catches a glance and you can feel the nervous swell inside.”
~ Kyle Turner