Film Essent Archive for March, 2010

More Fun with Gay Bashing

Just when you thought it was safe to be gay and bring your date to the prom, here’s a story about gay teen Derrick Martin. Martin’s school was smart enough (perhaps in the wake of the whole Constance McMillen thing) not to tell him he couldn’t bring his boyfriend to the prom, but some of the brighter minds among the teen brain trust at his high school are protesting against him anyhow.
Way to represent your generation, y’all!
Oh, and representing THEIR generation, we also have Martin’s parents, who reportedly booted him out of his home over the controversy. They get the “Managing to Have Sex and Produce Offspring Does NOT Make One a Parent” award of the week. No one’s come up with any pics of Martin’s wonderfully supportive folks yet, but here’s betting they’re hardcore Bible-thumpers. (And before any of my Christian friends get offended, I mean that in the hypocritical, falsely moralizing, doesn’t-really-live-by-the-teachings-of-Christ sense, not as a slam against those of the faith generally.)

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Chicks and Anime

Really excellent piece on the Guardian by Anne Billson on tough girls in anime (thanks once again to Ray Pride, who unearths the most interesting stories on the internet for our readers). This piece is completely spot-on, and really speaks to what attracts both me and my 13-year-old daughter Neve to anime and manga. Well, that and the fact that the best manga and anime consistently offer more interesting stories and character development than most books and films aimed at kids these days.

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The End of At the Movies

So Disney is finally closing the door on the long-running At the Movies. I feel sad for my friend Michael Phillips and for AO Scott, two very smart guys who just couldn’t draw the audience, I guess, to justify keeping the show afloat. It’s a business thing, from Disney’s standpoint.
And I agree with the many who have said that the show died with Gene Siskel, and that Richard Roeper never quite filled his shoes, whether because he’s never been embraced as a “real” critic within the critic community or because there weren’t the fights and fireworks between him and Roger that so defined the dynamic between Roger and Gene. Richard is a very nice, smart guy, but the chemistry between him and Roger never had that “snap” to it, and I think that’s largely because Siskel and Ebert were equals and Ebert and Roeper were not.
But I also have to wonder if it’s just that the time for television show where two guys talk about movies is just past. The advent of the internet, the ready availability of opinions and debates and reviews and online videos of people talking about film … maybe people are just oversaturated and the attitude of most folks was just, who cares about this show?
Here’s what would maybe work: A Survivor-type show where critics are pitted against each other on teams. Todd McCarthy and Harry Knowles can lead the competing tribes — old guard print critics versus new guard onliners.
Last critic standing gets to keep his or her job.

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Victory for Constance McMillen

A Mississippi court ruled that the Itawamba County School District violated the First Amendment rights of Constance McMillen when it canceled the school’s prom rather than allow the openly gay student to attend the prom with her girlfriend, wearing a gender-bending tuxedo. What?! Girls in tuxedos? What is the world coming to?
Good for the court for making the right ruling here. And wow, do I ever admire Constance, who has been open about being a lesbian since eighth grade. Ponder that a moment, if you would. I grew up in Oklahoma, not exactly what I would call the most welcoming, safe place to come of age and realize you are gay or lesbian or bisexual. Constance, growing up in Mississippi, had the courage to come out as who she is in eighth grade.
That, my friends, takes courage, and a remarkable sense of knowing who you are and believing in yourself at a very young age. Good for her, and I hope she and her girlfriend have a swell time at the alternative, open prom being planned by parents. Shine on in that tux, girl, and make some great memories.

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QOTD: Hot Tub Time Machine

Here’s a random question for you: If you could go in a Hot Tub Time Machine back to one year of your life, which year would it be, and what, if anything, would you change?
My serious (somewhat doomy-gloomy) answer is after the jump. What’s yours?

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Hot Tubbing

Going to a screening of Hot Tub Time Machine tonight. When I watched the trailer for this before She’s Out of My League a couple weeks ago, I said to myself, “This will either be totally brilliant or absolutely wretched.” Tonight, we’ll find out which way it swings. The presence of John Cusack in it gives me hope that it won’t completely suck, though, and several scenes in the trailer made me laugh. Let’s hope they weren’t the only funny scenes in the entire movie.

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Diary of a Wimpy Film Journalist

As an excercise, for the next 30 days I’m going to try using this space as an online journal of sorts to capture whatever random thoughts pop into my head about film during the day. Short posts, though maybe a longer follow-up if an idea that pops up really intrigues me.Curious to see what this pulls up; I have all these random thoughts about film all the time. Things like, Whatever happened to the kids (Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello) who played the brothers in Radio Flyer? Or: Someone should do a remake of ‘Full House’ as a feature movie aimed at kids.
… Only make it starring Chris Rock in the role of Danny Tanner and Sinbad and Mo’Nique as his brother and friend. And whenever the bratty kids (at least two of them should be Will Smith’s kids) get mouthy Mo’Nique can smack ’em around and put ’em in line. Tyler Perry can produce and direct.
Your comments are welcome, let me know if you like how it’s going.

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Orangey-Tealy

I read this really excellent piece on the prevalence of teal-and-orange color grading of films in recent years the other day (thanks, Ray, for the weird and interesting links you gather for us) and since then, I’ve been paying attention to the colors on tv shows.
I’m over at my dad’s tonight because he hurt his neck, so I’ve been watching more TV than usual. And whaddayouknow? Sure enough, now that I was looking for it, I could see exactly what Todd Miro was talking about in the piece. I noticed it on 24 and House andnow on Craig Ferguson, the orangey-tealy thing is obvious on the set (orange arches over popping sapphire skyline and on Ferguson himself, who looks like he had a tanning booth accident and looks even more orange by the teal stripe in his tie complementing it so nicely (and unnaturally).
A creative person could totally make a drinking game out of this.
Be sure to read Todd Miro’s piece, it’s good reading with your morning coffee and bagel.

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Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to the Prom

And now, a brief pause while we delve into the realm of the political …
As I’m sure most of you folks know, there’s been this little brouhaha stirring in Mississippi around Constance McMillen, a teenage lesbian who wanted to bring her girlfriend to prom and gender-bend by wearing a tux herself. Now, this is a pretty common thing here in Seattle, and may be in your neck of the woods, but down there in Mississippi the principal and school board freaked the hell OUT about it, and actually canceled prom so as to not allow this miscreant rebel of a teenager to bring her filthy lesbianism into a hallowed institution of clean-cut fun like the prom. Her presence with her girlfriend, it seems, was going to be just too darn distracting.
In his Savage Love column this week, the lovely and eloquent Dan Savage asked his readers (and whoo-boy, are there a lot of you pervy types out there who like to read his advice on fetishes, three-ways, potentially gay husbands and other such deviant-ness) to show Constance that she is supported by many people by doing any or all of these things:
“E-mail, call, and fax Itawamba Schools superintendent Teresa McNeece (tmcneece@itawamba.k12.ms.us, phone 662-862-2159 ext. 14, fax 662-862-4713) and Itawamba Agricultural principal Trae Wiygul (twiygul@itawamba.k12.ms.us, 662-862-3104). Then join the Facebook page “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom.” And, finally, make donations to the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition (www.mssafeschools.org), which is organizing an alternate prom that will welcome all students, and make a larger donation to the ACLU LGBT Project (www.tinyurl.com/yl9mvkb).
Call, write, fax, donate. Constance needs to know that there are people all over the world who are on her side. And, more importantly, Itawamba County Schools needs to know that we’re not going to let them get away with this. Be respectful, but be relentless. Let’s show these bigots what a real distraction looks like. Get ’em.”
Me again. You’ll find the letter I sent after the jump. Read it, be entertained, and then please take the time to support gay rights in general and Constance in particular by writing your own letter, joining the Facebook page, and making a donation. Dan is right … we need to send a message, not just to the school board and principal, but more importantly to Constance — and all the gay and lesbian teens out there — that they are NOT alone, that they are not bad people, or deviants who should be discriminated against, that they are okay. Please join me.

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The Death of Film Criticism Redux

EDITOR’S NOTE: When I wrote this piece, I misread Kenny’s piece and quoted him as saying things that were actually quotes from an email sent to him by a friend. Corrections have been made below to attribute those quotes to the anonymous party from whence they came, with sincerest apologies to Kenny for misrepresenting him.
There’s been a bit of an interesting kerfuffle over a piece Eric Kohn wrote about state of film criticism and Glenn Kenny’s acerbic response to Kohn’s thoughts on the matter. I read Kohn’s piece, and while I get how it stirred the ire of Kenny and his pals, I think their (or your) reaction to what he wrote is largely a matter of perspective. Change is never an easy thing to embrace, and while Kenny seems to have more or less made his peace with the reality that he will likely never again be paid a full-time salary and benefits to write film criticism, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy peace.
On the Hot Blog, David Poland weighed in as well, bemoaning the way SXSW is being “tweeted” to death rather than critiqued by a lot of folks there. And he’s right … it seems I’ve seen a lot more tweeting and a lot less critiquing from folks attending that fest, most of whom I like and respect as writers. This whole cutthroat, bloodletting orgy of “FIRSTS!” and 140-character commentaries about the fest, which seem to be more about waits in line and parties and the “feel” of the fest than about the films, I’ve just found irritating. I never was a personality well-suited to the constant need to feed the ever-hungry blog or Twitter feed.

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Review: She’s Out of My League

Directed by Jim Field Smith

In the surprisingly likable rom-com She’s Out of My League, solid “#5″ Kirk (Jay Baruchel) meets hot-to-trot “#10″ Molly (Alice Eve), and spends most of the film struggling with both the self-esteem issues that keep getting in the way of their budding relationship and the advice he’s being given by his pack of doltish but well-meaning friends, who keep trying to convince him there’s no way a girl like Molly would be interested in a guy like him.

Director Jim Field Smith is obviously paying homage here to Judd Apatow‘s films; She’s Out of My League resembles both Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin, but it also reminded me of another film: Delbert Mann‘s 1955 Marty; where Marty’s friends berated him for dating a “dog,” in She’s Out of My League Kirk’s friends spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince him Molly is not for him because she’s too hot, presumably because they don’t want to see him hurt, but also, perhaps, because they’re a bit jealous that Kirk might actually land a girl like her.

I kind of wondered for a while there if writers Sean Anders and John Morris were being deliberate in referencing Marty, but as they also penned the upcoming Hot Tub Time Machine, I’m guessing if anything, they were more deliberately referencing Apatow. Guys bantering about sex, women, and the perils of pre-ejaculation? Check. Lovable, nice hero for whom we can root to get the girl? Check. Girl way hotter than the guy is, or at least perceives himself to be? Check.

And yet, in spite of the obviousness of the references and a couple of questionable moments, I quite likedShe’s Out of My League; certainly I liked it way more than I expected based on the trailer, which makes it appear to be yet another must-miss banal rom-com. This film is aiming to be more than that, even in the moments when it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Part of what helps She’s Out of My League rise above the watermark most rom-coms hit is the charming and very likable lead performance by Jay Baruchel as Kirk, who somewhat reminds me of Jon Cryer‘s memorable Ducky from Pretty in Pink; Baruchel has been in quite a few films, but up until now he’s always been “that guy,” as in, “oh yeah, that guy, I’ve seen him in other movies, but I can never remember his name …” Here, his goofy, self-deprecating demeanor and struggle to accept himself as “good enough” for Molly have to carry the film; we have to believe, even if Kirk doesn’t, that he is good enough for Molly — and for the most part, the film succeeds in making that sale.

The film is also buoyed enormously by the presence of Alice Eve as Molly. Eve has been in a few films, but this is a big break-out role for her, and she positively sparkles on screen. She’s gorgeous, yes, but unlike some other physically attractive actresses out there who don’t bring much more than T&A to their part, Eve radiates intelligence, humor, and even humility. She has great chemistry with Baruchel that helps significantly in helping us buy that a girl like Molly would go out with a guy like Kirk (it helps also that Kirk, unlike most of the guys in Apatow’s films, is not a pot-smoking, lazy slob with a beer gut, but just an average guy who feels insecure about his physically studliness factor).

More than that, though, Eve brings out the vulnerability and self-esteem issues that even a girl who’s a solid “#10″ has, and makes her stunningly beautiful, smart character likable even to the women in the audience. Molly, for all that she seems to have it all, is insecure, lonely, and looking for love, just like a lot of us, and just like a lot of the women who will see this movie, she’s been burned by relationships with “hot guys” and is seeking a guy who’s more real, more honest and, yes, more safe.

This is part of what makes this film work so well as a date movie, or even a movie for a chick to go see with a group of girlfriends; we women can be insecure and bitchy, and one sure-fire way to make us dislike a character is to make her an attractive woman with no perceivable defects or vulnerabilities. Molly, though, is a nice girl who happens to be gorgeous, and we can get behind and root for her.

Sex and the City, by the bye, worked for much the same reason — the female leads of that show, for all that they endlessly obsessed on fashion and men, all had flaws and foibles and relationship troubles that made them feel real and human. Is it coincidence that Eve’s next film is Sex and the City 2? I rather think not, and having seen her in this, I’m actually motivated more to see that film, just to see what the do with her in it.

As for She’s Out of My League, overall the film is much, much better than you might expect from the trailer, which does a spectacularly crappy job of selling the heart of the story. Kirk’s family — lazy, bullying brother Dylan (Kyle Bornheimer) and his trashy pregnant girlfriend Debbie (Jessica St. Clair) and Kirk’s parents (Debra Jo Rupp and Adam LeFevre), who have more or less adopted Kirk’s ex, the repugnant (but also vulnerable) Marnie (Lindsay Sloane) and her new boyfriend, the more studly Ron (Hayes MacArthur) into the family, supplanting their own son, are all, as a group, one of the most repugnant on-screen families you’ve ever seen.

The scenes with Kirk’s family are universally a bit over-the-top and hard sell; they treat him so badly, are just such a nasty bunch, that it’s a bit hard to believe that Kirk would bring Molly into this nest of vipers early on in their relationship. Kirk’s friends, Stainer (T.J. Miller), Jack (Mike Vogel) and Devon (Nate Torrance), the one married guy in the group, pretty much follow the buddy formula so well-established by any number of rom-coms, including Apatow’s: they banter, they make dick jokes, and they give their friend frequently bad advice on his relationship which he, to his detriment, takes to heart.

She’s Out of My League isn’t a “#10,” but I’d give it at least a “6” or “7” for a generally smart script and for playing around with how both Kirk and Molly, different though they may be on the surface, are, like a lot of us, scared and vulnerable and insecure as they flounder about and find their way in the rocky world of relationships. It also gets points from me for daring to venture a bit beyond rom-com cliche, and for making the effort to be a little smarter, sharper and more insightful than films of this genre tend to be.

If it had an all-star cast, it might have gotten more attention, but I don’t think it would have been a better movie. I laughed, a lot, and didn’t leave feeling I’d wasted the money spent on my ticket. At the multiplex these days, that alone is enough to recommend it.

-by Kim Voynar

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Ramin Bahrani's Plastic Bag


You already know of Ramin Bahrani’s work from his feature films Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo (and if you don’t, shame on you and go hunt them up and watch them, pronto). Bahrani has a new short out, Plastic Bag, narrated by Werner Herzog, with cinematography by Bahrani’s talented longtime collaborator, Michael Simmonds.
Somewhat reminiscent of The Red Balloon, Plastic Bag is the tale of a plastic bag who falls in love with the woman who takes him from the grocery store, is used by her, and ultimately discarded, after which he goes on a lonely search buoyed by wind and water to find his beloved lost “maker.”
If you are going to be at SXSW, try to catch Plastic Bag there, where you can see it on a big screen, the better to appreciate Simmonds’ gorgeous cinematography. One of these days, if there’s any justice in the world of film, both Simmonds and Bahrani will win Oscars for their work. If you’re not already a fan of their work, for Pete’s sake, get on the bandwagon now; when they get rich and famous, you, like a snooty hipster music fan, can say that you loved their work long before the hoi polloi caught on.
If you can’t make it to SXSW, you can watch the film online. It’s embedded above, it’s lovely, it’s well worth the time it will take you, trust me. Enjoy.

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Today's WTF Moment: Variety Axes McCarthy and Rooney

I am stunned by the news that Variety has let go full-time film critic Todd McCarthy and theater critic David Rooney. It’s no secret that Variety has used — and I mean that in the fullest sense of the term — freelancers for a long time in filling its review space. But when Variety can afford the fancy digs out of which it operates while it’s letting go of full-time writers with seniority and benefits — the very people who, one might think, the paper that purports to be the most important in Hollywood ought to want to have writing for them — as a “cost-cutting measure,” that is a sad statement about Variety’s priorities.
Variety would be better served trimming down management or getting rid of the fancy office space and transitioning to mostly virtual offices, having people work from home and saving on infrastructure, than saving money by getting rid of its lifeblood, the writers who write the words without which, there would be no Variety. Or better still, cut in half what they’re paying president Neil Stiles, who had the audacity to say, “… the critics were cut as a cost-saving measure.”
Well, thanks for clarifying, Mr. Stiles. That speaks volumes about Variety’s priorities. Someone needs to axe Stiles as a “cost-saving measure” and pay the writers. What a sad, sad day. It would be great if freelance critics would unite in boycotting writing for these assholes at all, but sadly, that’s not going to happen. Even though Variety has repeatedly shown it won’t think twice about screwing writers over right and left, there will always be someone who will think the perceived value of writing for them is somehow worth it.
There are some things you cannot put a price on, and integrity is one of them.

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A Sublime Midsummer Night’s Dream

I took Neve to see the Family Learning Center’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream tonight, and it was amazing. Year after year, FLC’s outstanding drama teacher, Jennifer Reif, consistently puts on professional-level theater productions with a group of homeschoolers and a limited budget. I don’t know how she works her particular brand of theatrical magic, but she is one of the most gifted teachers of the dramatic arts that I’ve ever encountered. My kids were fortunate enough to get to work with Jen several years ago in equally impressive productions of Annie and The Box Circus.

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many recappers, while clearly over their heads, are baseline sympathetic to finding themselves routinely unmoored, even if that means repeating over and over that this is closer to “avant-garde art” than  normal TV to meet the word count. My feed was busy connecting the dots to Peter Tscherkassky (gas station), Tony Conrad (the giant staring at feedback of what we’ve just seen), Pat O’Neill (bombs away) et al., and this is all apposite — visual and conceptual thinking along possibly inadvertent parallel lines. If recappers can’t find those exact reference points to latch onto, that speaks less to willful ignorance than to how unfortunately severed experimental film is from nearly all mainstream discussions of film because it’s generally hard to see outside of privileged contexts (fests, academia, the secret knowledge of a self-preserving circle working with a very finite set of resources and publicity access to the larger world); resources/capital/access/etc. So I won’t assign demerits for willful incuriosity, even if some recappers are reduced, in some unpleasantly condescending/bluffing cases, to dismissing this as a “student film” — because presumably experimentation is something the seasoned artist gets out of their system in maturity, following the George Lucas Model of graduating from Bruce Conner visuals to Lawrence Kasdan’s screenwriting.”
~ Vadim Rizov Goes For It, A Bit

“On the first ‘Twin Peaks,’ doing TV was like going from a mansion to a hut. But the arthouses are gone now, so cable television is a godsend — they’re the new art houses. You’ve got tons of freedom to do the work you want to do on TV, but there is a restriction in terms of picture and sound. The range of television is restricted. It’s hard for the power and the glory to come through. In other words, you can have things in a theater much louder and also much quieter. With TV, the quieter things have to be louder and the louder things have to be quieter, so you have less dynamics. The picture quality — it’s fine if you have a giant television with a good speaker system, but a lot of people will watch this on their laptops or whatever, so the picture and the sound are going to suffer big time. Optimally, people should be watching TV in a dark room with no disturbances and with as big and good a picture as possible and with as great sound as possible.”
~ David Lynch