Film Essent Archive for October, 2010
Boy, mag/website Marie Claire really stepped in a big pile of cow patties with this blog post by Maura Kelly titled “Should Fatties Get a Room (Even on TV)? the other day. The piece was about television show Mike & Molly, which depicts an obese couple who meet at Overeaters Anonymous, and was apparently prompted by Kelly’s editor asking her, “Do you really think people feel uncomfortable when they see overweight people making out on television?”
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A while back I took a conversation my guy and I were having via IM (because we are geeks, yes) about the nature of zombies and whether infection-type and parasite-type zombies do, in fact, count as “zombies” proper, onto Facebook. I’ve been experimenting more with using Facebook for conversations about film, in part because the exclusive nature of Facebook and its “friends” model makes it easier to weed out trolls and generally unpleasant people from the conversation, so discussions tend to stay more on topic.
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Fans of surprise horror hit Paranormal Activity will find much to like in Paranormal Activity 2. This second round of things-that-go-bump-in-the-night-vision-cameras retains the slow-building, repetitive pace of the first film, while still delivering (for the most part) plenty of scares to keep you on the edge of your seat.
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Is the film festival model as it stands now broken, from the standpoint of filmmakers? And is there a way to fix that such that filmmakers can use fests to their advantage while still ensuring that fests also serve the needs of their audience?
I was reading this piece over on indieWIRE today about the distribution model of indie film October Country (good film), which reminded me that the other day I was pondering film festivals (yes, again).
Film Threat ran a piece on Monday about the New Mexico International Film Festival, which filmmaker Justin Eugene Evans is attempting to build as a way of breaking the film fest mold — or at least, challenging certain assumptions of the film fest model — by experimenting with ways to create a business model that monetizes fests for the filmmakers.
Which isn’t to say anyone’s ever going to get rich off their film showing in a festival, even with the things the fledgling New Mexico fest is proposing, like reimbursing travel expenses for certain filmmakers, providing free hotel rooms, letting filmmakers set up and sell merchandise (an idea the Oxford Film Fest tried out last year), even sharing the box office gross with “selected filmmakers.”
But as of right now, with 13 days left to go on the fest’s Kickstarter page, the fest has only received pledges of just over $1200 toward an $8000 goal. Which, frankly, doesn’t really surprise me … I know all kinds of indie filmmakers, and for the most part they are not independently wealthy people and what money they do have goes to pay the rent and fund their next film.
And while they might be glad to submit their film to a fest that actually offers them the opportunity to make money back on their film rather than costing them just to have the film in the fest at all, they are unlikely to support the kickoff of any fest by funding it to begin with. If you build it, they will come … but they aren’t going to pay to build it.
Now, a couple things came to mind as I was reading both these pieces today. One is that one of the challenges for any fest is to build credibility — if you are a new fest, how do you interest filmmakers in showing their film at your fest when you don’t have any sort of “prestige” factor around your fest’s name yet? And how do you build a reputation for showing quality films, thereby encouraging audiences to turn out for your fest, when you’re still building just having some name recognition for your fest at all?
The folks at smaller fests like Oxford and DeadCenter (in my hometown of OKC) and countless other smaller regional fests can tell you what a challenge that can be, even if you have good fundraisers and solid local support for the arts. And without money, how do you afford to do things like give filmmakers back their submission fees, and give them half the box office take, and pay for travel? And etc … fests are not cheap.
And while on the one hand Evans has a kind of cool idea about having the New Mexico fest “travel” around the state and be in a different location each year, on the other hand … WOW. Logistically, and from a fund-raising standpoint, that seems to me to just be making it exponentially harder to get the idea off the ground. Wouldn’t you lose a lot of what could be ongoing momentum gained by having your fest in one city where you can get embedded with the arts community, build awareness in one town with cinema fans, and generate fund-raising to support your fest?
By moving around every year, it seems like you’d be starting over every year, and from a branding standpoint, it might be harder to build an identity for the fest by not being associated with one location. But then again, I don’t know that another fest has ever tried to do it this way, so maybe Evans will surprise the hell out of everyone.
I do agree that the fest model as it stands is largely broken, and that the veritable explosion of smaller fests makes it harder and more expensive for filmmakers to promote their films that way, even if it’s also a Good Thing in that more fests = more people exposed to indie film. And I applaud Evans for being bold in not just bitching about what’s broken, but leading the way by trying to fix it.
I’m going to get in touch with Evans to chat him up a bit about his ideas and his fest; in the meantime, though, I would love to hear from some indie filmmakers about your thoughts on the value of film festivals generally, how much it costs you to attend fests with your film, whether what the New Mexico fest is attempting interests you, and what kinds of things you want and need in a festival to best promote your film and make it worth your while.
So today is “wear purple in support of LGBT teens” day, courtesy of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). All across the mighty land of Facebook, people have changed their profile pics to purple in support of the day. I’m not seeing a lot of purple around the homeschool center today, except on little kids whose parents probably dressed them not knowing that today is “purple day” anyhow. I don’t own anything purple, oddly enough, or I suppose I would have worn purple just because.
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Now that we have a flatscreen and DVD player installed in our bedroom, I can actually watch screeners at home with something approximating a semi-theatrical experience, which is better for most films than watching them on my portable mini-DVD player.
So, catching up with some screeners I’ve been watching of late … Henceforth, I’ll be posting more reviews of indie films that don’t fall under the “Awards Watch” header here on Film Essent under the header “Indie Screener Grab Bag.” If you’re an independent filmmaker and have a film you’d like me to check out, drop me a line.
Dir. Carl Bessai
Repeaters played at TIFF in the “Special Presentations” section of the fest, and I finally managed to catch up with it on a screener at home. To be honest, I wasn’t with this film for the first third or so … my fiance, who was watching it with me, summed it up within the first couple minutes as “So this is basically Groundhog Day in a rehab center?” … which is kind of what it feels like at first.
Then it takes a sharp left turn at “More Interesting,” which for me made it worth writing up. So here you go.
The basic setup of Repeaters is, in fact, very much like Groundhog Day: three 20-somethings at a rehab center (unclear on whether they are compelled to be there or there by choice, but it kind of implies the former) experience some sort of electrical shock that disrupts the flow of the space-time continuum, causing them to experience the same day over and over again. This in and of itself is not particularly original or interesting, but the way in which the character arcs shift as a result of this IS interesting, and there are some solid performances here that merit some recognition.
One thing Bessai does that’s very smart is to take what’s essentially a sci-fi concept and not bog the film heavily with a lot of made-up scientific whatnot that opens the door for people to say things like, “In a real disruption of the space-time continuum, the laws of physics would dictate blah blah blah…” If you’re making a low-budget indie film (which this presumably was), minimizing that sort of thing can go a long ways toward keeping your story interesting while also allowing you to create your own laws of space-time for the purpose of your story.
So, it’s Wednesday in the rehab center, and what we have here are our three main characters, Kyle (Dustin Milligan), Sonia (Amanda Crew) and Michael (Richard De Klerk), on the day that things start going awry. They’ve reached the stage of the “steps” of the program where they are supposed to make amends to the people they’ve hurt with their addiction. They all have day passes so they can go and and, presumably, hunt their people down and attempt to reach out to make amends to them, and then they have to report back to group on how that went.
And the nature of storytelling (or at least, good storytelling) being what it is, it’s not really a spoiler to say that this exercise doesn’t go well for our three protagonists. If it did, there wouldn’t be much need of telling their story, would there? Then this weird time loop thing happens, and all three of them wake up in the morning to find that they are still stuck in Wednesday. Imagine being stuck forever in a permanent Wednesday … never quite getting over the hump, never reaching the weekend. I wouldn’t mind getting stuck on a nice fall Saturday so much, but Wednesday?
Part of what’s interesting about the way in which things unfold is that Kyle, Sonia and Michael are able to change the way in which they do things, presumably without affecting the future. The script doesn’t really delve into the nature of non-linearity and time travel and how mucking about in the past/present might impact the future, which sci-fi purists might consider to be a weakness.
This story is much more interested in exploring the moral implications of how you would choose to live your life if you could get away with anything — anything at all — and know that it didn’t really matter, because the day would just keep resetting over and over again. Because it doesn’t deal much with ideas around multiple timelines and non-linearity, it doesn’t really delve much into whether it’s only for Kyle, Sonia and Michael that things keep resetting and whether the actions they take in subsequent “repeats” has any kind of cumulative impact on future time-paths — a bit of a weakness in my book but it might not be in yours.
The character of Michael is used to explore ideas of moral ambiguity: to what extent is it acceptable to commit morally questionable, even reprehensible acts, if you think that what you’re doing doesn’t matter in the long run? What sets us apart from animals, what defines our humanity? And are the boundaries that determine right and wrong, good and evil, malleable or absolute?
This is ambitious philosophical ground to explore in a film, and I have to give credit to everyone involved for taking on something so intellectually challenging (the equally intriguing Primer dealt with similar ideas in a somewhat different way). All three leads are solid, but de Klerk (also a producer on the film) gives a particularly chilling performance that charts Michael’s moral backsliding with precise, measured beats.
While I wouldn’t call Repeaters exceptionally polished — words like gritty and edgy come more to mind — it also feels like the somewhat unsettled, rough feel of the film is a deliberate choice that works pretty well. Stick with it through the deceptively cheesy set-up, and you’ll be rewarded with a thoughtful and compelling (if rather grim) exploration of morality and humanity.
As an aside, Repeaters would make an excellent late night indie sci-fi double-feature along with Primer. Alamo Drafthouse, if you ever program that, shoot me an email. That and a five-dollar milkshake might just justify a weekend trip to Austin.
Maybe I’m mellowing out a bit as I age, but it’s actually a pretty rare thing these days for anyone’s opinion about a movie to raise my ire to the point that I feel compelled to write an entire article refuting it. Maybe a Facebook post. Perhaps just a 140 character Tweet. But for me to devote an entire blog post or column to a subject, it has to really strike a chord in me. So I’d like to offer my congratulations to David Cox, whose article in The Guardian last week on Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham succeeded where so many other inane pieces have failed, inspiring an entire post to refute it.
Made in Dagenham is a fictionalization (though one that, by all accounts, stays fairly close to truth) of a strike by female factory workers at a Ford plant in Dagenham in 1968. A strike that, by the bye, was crucial to the eventual passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1970 (that would be Great Britain’s Equal Pay Act, not the one passed in the US and signed into law by John F. Kennedy in 1963, after which it was put into a vault and completely ignored by the mostly male managers who run things).
Mr. Cox kicks off his piece with this bit: “Dagenham in the 1960s is presented as in thrall to blinkered routine, bumbling incompetence and heedless injustice. It’s a place controlled by men, and its deficiencies spring from theirs.”
Actually, the film presents Dagenham as representative of the Western world generally in 1968. Historical context: England at that time was barely recovered from the economic devastation of World War 2. Post-war, Great Britain went through a period of not only physically rebuilding, but of vast social change; the fledgling post-war Labour Party had nationalized many industries. Since Mr. Cox writes for a Brit paper and might even, for all I know, be British himself, he should know this already. I grew up in America, where the accuracy of our school textbooks depends largely upon the whim of fundamentalist Christian ministers advising mostly white male politicians, and even I know that much.
Further, the context of this film isn’t about women versus men, it’s about women convincing men — in both their union and the larger entity of the Labour Party — to recognize that what’s fair, what’s right, is for unions in general and the Labour Party in particular, to work to support the rights of all workers, not just men. And at that point in history, they did not. You could make an argument that this is not the case today, but even that would be a dicey one to support.
The film doesn’t create some non-existent fantasy world controlled by men; it was a world controlled by men. The women working in that factory were devalued by their male co-workers, referred to by the diminutive term “girls” even when they were older than their male co-workers and managers. The work they did — women’s work, because it involved using sewing machines, and men can’t use sewing machines! They have penises, remember? — was devalued by reclassifying their jobs as “unskilled” so the men in charge could pay them even less than they were already. It wasn’t female managers making those decisions. There were no women at the top of the union heap representing the interests of its female membership.
And the injustice depicted wasn’t heedless, it was explicitly and deliberately designed to both keep women in their place and to control the bottom line — profit — which would be impacted hugely if the demand for equal pay was met. Not just because that one little demand being met for 187 women would have been huge. It was the collective bargaining power of working women around the world being inspired and compelled to demand equality — a movement that was starting to seriously impact larger society — that these men — were afraid of.
It took courage, spirit, and, yes, balls for the women who marched for equality to stand up to their fathers, brothers and husbands, to take off their high heels and aprons, to cast aside the expectations of the men in their lives and in their workplace that the woman’s place was to be subservient to them. The women at the Dagenham factory, fueled, in part, by the burgeoning feminist movement, collectively put their cute little womanly heads together and said, we’re sorry, chaps, but fuck that.
And Made in Dagenham, which depicts their story, is great if for no other reasons than that tells a nearly lost tale about the fight for women’s equality and it’s about women doing more than talking about men and sex and fashion. Also, it stars Sally Hawkins, who is indisputably a British goddess.
But wait! Mr. Cox takes issue also with the casting of the divine Ms. Hawkins in the role of Rita O’Grady, a fictionalized character who’s an amalgam of two or three real women. Apparently Ms. Hawkins isn’t as burly and manly as he would like her to be. Perhaps the makeup department should have given Ms. Hawkins a hairy mole and a brawny mustache, because heaven forbid a working class, protesting, budding feminist woman who’s an abstract representation of real women should be depicted as attractive. Because everyone knows feminists are all burly lesbians with short haircuts and comfortable shoes, right?
Mr. Cox also takes issue with the film’s depiction of the well-established scientific fact that women and men tend to do things in different ways. He says of the film, “Women do things differently. In their domain, sisterly co-operation replaces blustering self-promotion. Compassion trumps protocol. Good humour banishes pomposity. Above all, homely common sense mocks heartless custom-and-practice. The triumph of these values makes the world a better place.”
Well, yes. So what? Women do do things differently than men. And Made in Dagenham is a story about these particular women and how, united by their common cause and yes, god forbid, “sisterly” co-operation, they found the courage to stand up for their rights, at a time in history when women were largely pinned under the boot heels of men.
Next, Mr. Cox attacks the film for daring to imply that men and their testosterone cause problems: “War, it’s implied, in Iraq as much as the Peloponnese, is rooted in machismo. Political factionalism is displaced brawling. Disastrously reckless financial speculation is fueled by testosterone.”
Yes. Yes. And yes, absolutely. Actually, the “testosterone” effect of successful financial traders has been studied for a while now, Mr. Cox. Here’s an article from TIME on that very subject for you to peruse. (It’s also discussed in Charles Ferguson‘s Inside Job, which breaks down the global financial collapse that sent the entire world into a tailspin when the bubble burst in 2008. By the way, the vast majority of the people responsible for that shit? Were men. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
The war for equality didn’t end in Dagenham. In fact, it’s barely begun — as evidenced by this recent article on the disparity in pay between women and men on Wall Street, which discusses little things that might piss feminists off, like women working in the financial sector losing their jobs at five times the rate of men since July 2007. And female managers in the finance field earning 63.9 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Oops, scratch that — in 2007, the most recent year for which data from the Government Accountability Office was available for that Bloomberg article, that dropped to 58.8 cents. Wait, what happened to equal pay? Well, fuck.
The women who protested at Dagenham, at the time they went on strike, were being paid 87 percent of the rate paid to “unskilled” male workers and 80 percent of the rate paid to “semi-skilled” male workers. Women working in finance in 2010 may be bringing home more bacon, but the percentage of what they’re paid compared to their male colleagues has gotten worse, not better. Sucks to be a woman, I guess.
Made in Dagenham does push buttons, yes. But those buttons are well-worn because they’ve been pushed before and need to be pushed again, and again, and again, until the men who are still largely in control of things get the message and fix things. Because the things that were broken in 1968 when the real women of Dagenham went on strike are, to a large extent, still broken. This is exactly why a film like Made in Dagenham is relevant, important, and necessary today.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pop off to paint some protest signs.
After a pretty spectacular opening scene, I was hopeful that Clint Eastwood‘s highly anticipated film, Hereafter, with a script by Peter Morgan, was going to be something special. Then it became evident that the setup is a triptych, which is really hard to weave together into a coherant story without it feeling enormously contrived.
Unfortunately, the conceit of the film just never pays off in a satisfying way.
Our trio of tales kicks off with Marie (Cécile De France), a French television personality on vacation with her boyfriend when she’s caught in a devastating tsunami, nearly dies, and is brought back to life. Marie’s near-death experience has a profound effect on her, and when she returns home she finds she can’t focus on anything but researching and writing about her experience; her obsession with death and the afterlife quickly isolates her from her friends and colleagues and threatens her career.
The second parallel tale concerns George (Matt Damon), a blue-collar warehouse worker who’s hiding out from a gift — an ability to touch a person and connect with their dead family members. After previously making money off his talent at the encouragement of his brother, who seeks to profit from his talent, George has retreated from the world, a lonely, isolated man whose gift has become a curse that keeps him from having relationships with others.
He signs up for a cooking class, desperate for companionship, and there meets a charming woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) with whom he feels he might be able to connect for the first time in his adult life. But when she learns of his gift, it threatens the tentative connection they’re building.
The third of our three stories concerns Marcus (Frankie McLaren) and Jason (George McLaren), twin brothers in England whose mum is addicted to heroin. When tragedy strikes, Jason seeks desperately to find answers about what happens after death, a path that ultimately leads him to George’s old website, which was never taken down.
The thing is, each of these stories on their own — or even George’s story in sync with just one of the others, would probably have made for a much tighter story. Individually as meditations on both the affect on the living when they lose someone they love, and the questions raised when a person is technically dead (or at least, very near death), and then brought back to life, are certainly something many of us ponder when we’re not too busy running around in our lives to pause and consider that every day we run full speed ahead is just bringing us another day closer to the end.
George’s part of the story, in particular, is quite well-written and Damon, as a man gifted with a rare talent that nonetheless serves to isolate him from the world around him, turns in a strong performance. Howard, in the brief time she’s a part of his story, is a powerful and emotional force. De France is also very good, and her journey fairly engaging.
The trouble is that after being fairly interesting for its first 2/3 or so as we catch up with the individual tales, the necessity to bring everything together causes a serious nosedive into the realm of unwieldy contrivance that forces the characters to converge for the inevitable sappy ending. I stayed with it for quite a while … until a moment that smacks you upside the head with exactly where the film is going. Then I hoped against hope that Eastwood and Morgan really weren’t going to be as obvious as all that – surely they weren’t! But they were.
The thing is, I don’t have an issue with Eastwood exploring ideas of what happens after death; as a spiritual person I find those kinds of meditations interesting, and after all, most religion is built around the need for humans to derive some sense of comfort in thinking we have an answer to what happens to us once we depart this life. The need to believe we don’t just cease to exist, like the flame of a candle blown out, is very strong, and with a bit less contrivance this could have been a better meditation on the subject.
Unfortunately, while there are interesting ideas here, and some solid performances in the film, the sum of the parts just never adds up to a deeply satisfying whole. Bummer.
SPOILER WARNING: Mild spoilers for Never Let Me Go, so if you don’t already know generally what it’s about and don’t want to, move along.
It’s unfortunate to see Never Let Me Go sliding off the radar. It’s an intelligent, thoughtful film that deals with some intriguing moral questions — questions that are particularly relevant now, with things like stem cell trials for spinal cord injuries taking place. Whichever side of the debate over stem cell research you happen to fall on, Kazuo Ishiguro‘s somewhat ambiguous exploration of the morality of cloning is thoughtful, compelling, and well-adapted by Alex Garland.
It’s not very often that I like a film adaptation more after reading the source material, but I felt after reading Never Let Me Go that Garland did a reallly excellent job of more or less capturing Ishiguro’s rather distant emotional tone. One of the most interesting aspects of this book (and the movie) is the emotional distance and lack of judgment Ishiguro brings to the story of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy.
The film, I feel, weighs a little more toward being negatively judgmental than the book, in part because it explores less the ways in which Kathy,Tommy and Ruth were lucky (so to speak) to have been given an idyllic childhood and well-rounded educations at Hailsham boarding school before being directed down the path for which they created. There’s more implication in the book about a greater societal debate going on from which the Tommy, Ruth, Kathy and the rest of the Hailsham students have been largely shielded, and one of the strengths of the novel, I think, is that Ishiguro leaves so much of that implied and to the imagination of the reader.
It’s easy to watch Never Let Me Go and tell yourself that the world it imagines could never happen, but then it’s hard to imagine that the horrors of the Holocaust ever happened too, isn’t it? And when we’re dealing with rapid advances in medical research, when successful cloning experiments with animals have happened, when stem cell research is marching onward, when it seems that people are considering more and more whether things CAN be done and less and less whether they SHOULD be … a film (and a book) like Never Let Me Go is both relevant and compelling.
I’m not sure why it hasn’t performed better at the box office; perhaps people have been turned off by learning what the subject matter is, or by reviews calling it dour and depressing, or maybe they just don’t want to think too hard about the questions it raises. I dunno … I liked the look of the film, the tone of it, the performances, particularly by Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan. The only thing I really took issue with was the voiceover at the end, which I felt was unnecessary and assumed the audience wasn’t smart enough to think enough to ask those questions of themselves after seeing everything unfold.
Anyhow, Never Let Me Go is a good adaptation of a great book and well worth watching. I found it exponentially better than the 2008 adaptation of Revolutionary Road, which I pretty much hated. If you’ve not read the book, I recommened reading the book as well because Ishiguro’s writing is worth it, but see the film in a theater if you can, the better to appreciate the sumptuous cinematography. Never Let Me Go is still playing here in Seattle and other cities, so check it out while you can.
There’s been some interesting debate going on over that trailer for The Dilemma that used the word “gay” in a derogatory manner, and catching up with all that reminded me of this piece I started on last week about related topic: cyber-bullying.
I was an early adopter of the Internet — not quite as early as some of my geekier friends who were trying to make soup-can-and-string versions of email even before it became more generally available, but long enough that my earliest social connections with folks around the world via this wondrous thing called The Internet were through IRC channels. Certainly long before there were such things as blogs, and people who were frequent commenters on them.
Having worked within the realm of the Internet in various capacities for over 15 years now, I’ve learned a couple of things about the cool side of the Internet as a social tool, and some not-so-cool things about how it can also bring out the worst in people. Somewhere, someone is probably creating a graduate degree program on the social anthropology of the virtual world. It’s about at the point that we have enough evidence to study it now. Certainly any serious study would have to take a hard look at the way in which the Internet creates a wall of sorts that makes people think it’s okay to act in ways that, for the most part, they would never dream of doing in face-to-face interactions.
There are the cases we’ve seen in the past couple years of kids bullying each other through Facebook and other sites — even of adults bullying kids, which is hard to believe but true. There are shocking cases like this family of a 7YO girl dying of Huntington’s disease who have been bullied both online and in real life by neighbors who posted a picture of the girl’s mother (who died last year of the same disease) in the arms of the Grim Reaper and of the child herself over a skull and crossbones (no, I am not making that up, though I wish I was).
And, of course, there’s the cyber-bullying that happens all the time on blogs, including (seems like a lot lately, actually) the Hot Blog, which used to be a place of engaging discussion about film and the film business, but too often these days feels like a place for people to lob insults at David, or at each other. David certainly doesn’t need me or anyone else to defend him, but a few people have asked me offline why I’m not jumping into conversations over there anymore. I read the Hot Blog daily. I no longer engage in discussions there — or at least, I’m not right now. This is why.
And you could file this under “well, people are assholes, deal with it” and you’d partly be right, they — we — can all be assholes at one time or another. But after so many years of writing on the Internet and participating in discussions on everything from parenting blogs to political sites to The Hot Blog here on Movie City News … I’m just tired. Tired of the arrogance, tired of the self-aggrandizing jerks. Tired of the childish behavior. Tired, in particular, of grownups who act like petulant children from behind the relatively anonymous safety of their computer screens.
I engage in other ways now. I make use of the MCN Twitter feed. I use Facebook quite a lot, both to engage in the kinds of intelligent discussions about film I would have once looked to certain blogs for, and as a social tool for staying in touch with far-flung colleagues in between fests. Facebook is nice because if you think someone’s jerfk, you don’t have to friend them — the whole “exclusivity” thing that Mark Zuckerberg “got” when he realized the potential of putting the social experience online.
When I have something longer to say, I say it on Film Essent, or in a column. When I get the occasional bullying comments there, I mostly try to ignore them. This is all partly an experiment of sorts in de-stressing my life and trying to surround myself more with positive people. Which is not to say “people who agree with me” — on the contrary, I love engaging in spirited intellectual discussions about film, philosophy, books, whatever. I just don’t have the patience anymore for dealing with hateful people, and I’m consciously trying to be less of an asshole myself, and it’s more conducive to living that ideal if I don’t let myself get sucked into ugliness. I’m trying to model for my kids how to be responsible in their own social networking, how to deal with bullying when they encounter it, but mostly, how to be good people, kind people, compassionate people. Treat others how they would like to be treated, as my great-grandmother might have said.
I don’t have any answers for dealing with online bullies, other than to try to ignore them, and to try not to be one. If you have a different perspective — an argument that, say, the anonymity of the Internet is a good thing because it allows those who might not otherwise speak up to have a voice, I’d love to hear your point of view.
And now for a few words on the “gay” issue surrounding Universal’s film The Dilemma, whose trailer, with Vince Vaughn uttering the line, “Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual gay, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay,” has stirred considerable controversy (note: the trailer has been edited to take out that line).
Were gay rights activists right to challenge Universal for having this line in their film to begin with, and for highlighting it in the opening scene of the trailer? Hell yes, they were.
For me, this issue is a very simple one. As Unitarian Universalists, we are raising our children to respect diversity. Our congregation is a welcoming congregation for the GLBT community. As a bisexual woman with many friends who are gay and lesbian, and a daughter who recently came out herself, this is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart.
I grew up in Oklahoma, a place where openly acknowledging your difference from the norm in any respect — gay, liberal, not fundamentalist Christian — can be a dicey proposition. But while it would be easy to say it’s only in the flyover states that tolerance of gay kids, much less acceptance of them for who they are, is more the exception than the rule, the reality is that even in more liberal places like Seattle, New York City and Los Angeles, there’s a subtle kind of casual bullying that often takes the form of saying things like “that’s so gay” that gives gay people — maybe gay teens in particular — the message that who they are is NOT okay, that if their friends found out they are gay, they will become the target of teasing, social isolation, maybe even physical violence.
I can’t begin to count, for instance, how many times in the past two years I’ve asked the teens at our home school center in liberal Seattle to not use the word “gay” in a derogatory way, as in “You’re so GAY, dude!” and “That’s so GAY.” I would talk to the school’s administrator, to other parents, to make them aware of it being an issue, and for the most part everyone agreed that of course it’s no more okay for the students to use the word “gay” in that way than it would be for them to be saying “nigger” or “kike” or “spic” or any other derogatory term. They agreed that we had GLBT parents and teachers and students who would find it offensive, and even if we didn’t, it STILL wouldn’t be okay.
But it still happened, on pretty much a weekly basis, and was tolerated by default in a way that a student using a racial slur, or making fun of a student’s weight or bra size, would never be tolerated. It was a never-ending battle against the popular culture of television and movies and videos and music these kids are exposed to that tells them “that’s so GAY” is okay.
The thing about oppression is that it’s an insidious thing. The Nazis didn’t just wake up one morning and start rounding up Jews in concentration camps and implementing the “final solution.” They started out with propaganda and smaller bits of oppressive (one might say bullying) behaviors to establish themselves as superior and the Jews as inferior to the Aryan race, and then responsible for all its problems, and then not even human in the same way that Aryans are human. They established with the common people that it was okay to discriminate against Jews by a systematic devaluation of Jews as people, people with the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as everyone else. They did it through fliers, through cartoons depicting Jews as rats (thereby setting the stage for the acceptance of “exterminating” Jews as one would exterminate a nest of rodents infesting ones home), through hyperbole, and, yes, through movies. Popular culture is as much a part of what sets the social barometer of acceptable mores as the indoctrination kids get at their parents’ knees.
It doesn’t matter if the joke “clarifies” that “of course we don’t mean THAT kind of gay, sheesh.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a funny joke, if it’s a joke at the expense of another person. It’s not about being the PC police. It’s about the need to respect other people, period, and to recognize that when you make jokes about gayness an acceptable part of popular culture, you by extension make jokes about particular gay people acceptable, and you further are helping to create a culture where intolerance of gay people is the norm. And when intolerance is the norm, bullying will — and does — follow.
You think not? Go do a random internet search on “gay bullying suicide” and see how many articles you pull up. Now go to those articles and read the comments section, and see for yourself how much hate seethes through those anonymous keyboards out there. It’s shocking, it’s sad, it’s the truth.
And while it’s also the truth that you can’t change what’s in peoples’ hearts, you do not have to make hate and bullying and intimidation acceptable. We as members and friends of the GLBT community have to stand up and say enough. We have to say “this is not okay, period.” Most of all, we who are the adults need to be actively concerned about creating an environment where it is both okay and safe for gay and lesbian teens to be open about who they are. Where a gay teen won’t be bullied to the extent that he feels life will never get better, and suicide is the only option.
As a bisexual woman, I wish I hadn’t had to grow up hiding that about myself, or feeling there was something wrong with me. As a mom, I don’t want to feel afraid that my daughter might get hurt, emotionally or otherwise, for being brave enough as a young teen to be open about who she is. And much as I admire Dan Savage and the It Gets Better project, I wish that the world we live in wasn’t a place where we need an “It Gets Better” project to reach out to young people to convince them their life is worth living, even if they’re gay.
This is why, even if you might think they’re being overly sensitive PC police, it’s a good thing for GLAAD to be watchdogs of the media around the term “gay” being bandied about in negative ways. If you’re not gay, or don’t have someone in your life who is gay and has ever experienced being bullied or threatened because of their gayness, maybe you find it hard to get why anyone would get so worked up about this issue, or you think it’s not an issue at all.
But just in the time it took me to write this post, I got a notification in my email inbox about a comment someone made about a YouTube video I put up several months ago of my daughter, her BFF, and her friend’s (gay) father dancing as part of a Glee Flash Mob at the Seattle Gay Pride parade.
The comment, by a user named wowtcg, was this: “Stupid faggots need to get aids and die. But in the end they all get aids :)…..Thank God.”
Wowtcg, who not only took the time to search on YouTube to even find this video in the first place and then to leave a hateful comment on it, inadvertently made my point about why it’s so important that we fight — loudly — against the use of “gay” in a derogatory way in popular culture, including stupid jokes in movies. This, folks, is exactly why.
We have the new Gurus O’ Gold chart up, and in taking a look at the consensus votes du jour, I had a couple thoughts. I missed The King’s Speech at Toronto, so I’ll have to wait until screeners come in/Seattle screenings get set to weigh in on it. Could be the Oscar-bee’s knees like I heard from a lot of folks at Toronto, could be Colin Firth‘s year to win a statue. Or not. Time will tell.
Of the Best Pic-contending movies I have seen, I wouldn’t rank The Social Network as highly as it’s sitting right now. It’s very early for that film to be peaking, I think, and I still just don’t see its subject matter and cynicism as broadly appealing to the Academy voters. But we’ll see. Hereafter? Not so much. I wouldn’t even have that one on my Oscar radar at all except that it’s directed by Eastwood — but I personally found it to be maybe on par with Invictus, which wasn’t great, and maybe a tad below Million Dollar Baby (NOT my favorite movie) in terms of emotional manipulation.
Right now, I think my personal top Best Picture pics would be True Grit (haven’t seen that one yet either, but it’s the Coens and the trailer looks great), Black Swan, 127 Hours, Another Year, The King’s Speech (based on the buzz alone at this point) and Winter’s Bone OR The Kids Are All Right as strong outsiders.
I’m more interested at this point in the Adapted Screenplay race, where we have 127 Hours, True Grit and The Social Network as probably leaders of the pack. To this I would add Never Let Me Go, which I think, after reading the book, is a really solid adaptation — more on that one later. Unfortunately, I missed seeing Rabbit Hole (darn that weighty Toronto slate and its surprises), and I’ve heard so many things on that one (mostly positive) that I’m hoping to get to check it out soon.
Right now I’m also interested in the Best Actor and Actress races as well. For Best Actor, everyone (ah yes, the ever-mysterious, yet oddly influential “they”) came out of Toronto saying James Franco is a “lock” for a nomination, and Firth virtually a “lock” for a nom and probable win. I’ve seen Duvall in Get Low and it’s a good performance, no doubt, and one that may appeal to the Academy. Not my personal top o’ the actor heap, but I have no idea what the Academy’s temperature reading is on that film, and no one’s counting my votes anyhow.
Bridges in True Grit may (will probably be) Oscar worthy, but he’s coming off a win last year for Crazy Heart. Personally (and again, not having seen True Grit or King’s Speech yet) my sentimental favorite is Javier Bardem for Biutiful, which I think is the best performance in a career of great performances. But the artfulness of Biutiful may not be enough to lift it up above the rather bleak subject matter to put it up there in the hearts of voters.
As for Best Actress, maybe it’s just me but this feels like a slightly less competitive field this year. After barely missing out on a Best Actress nom for Happy-Go-Lucky a couple years ago, this may be Sally Hawkins year with Made in Dagenham, the kind of uplifting Brit-flick that may be appealing to the Academy. I would probably put Lesley Manville‘s really solid turn in Another Year right up there with Hawkins. and if it were me, Jennifer Lawrence would be right in the mix for Winter’s Bone. I heard really amazing things about Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole out of Toronto, too, and I am a fan of Black Swan and Portman’s performance in it. I wouldn’t count her out completely yet.
The Oscar race will start to take shape more as screeners get sent out and buzz starts to bubble up for this film and peter out for that one. This is a fall with a lot of exciting movies to look forward to and it should be an interesting awards season to watch as well. Much as we all get sick of reading and writing about Oscars, our collective obsession with it drives this business to one extent or another.
I don’t plan to write as much about Oscars as the “Oscar pundits,” more to focus narrowly on specific bits and pieces — screenplay adaptations, docs, maybe foreigns depending on what’s nominated there. After years of having my kids do their Oscar picks randomly using everything from Magic 8-Ball to Twister to Pin the Tail on the Donkey (usually with surprising accuracy) I’ve come to believe that it’s really a crap shoot anyhow.
Fun to talk about and argue about and make charts about, but at the end of the day, I don’t know that any one person’s guesses are actually more accurate or better than the randomness of the Magic 8-Ball. So it goes, let the speculating begin.
You ever have one of those months when it feels like no matter how many hours you work you keep getting further and further behind? Yeah, me too. Like right now.
five six things I’m just catching up with now:
1. Screeners. I suck at watching screeners, truefacts. I don’t really like to watch a screener while I’m doing other things, because if I’m going to watch someone’s film I like to give it my full attention. But finding a couple hours at home to watch a movie uninterrupted by six kids, when I’m not so tired that I’m inclined to fall asleep no matter how good it is … can be a challenge. I have a handy-dandy porta-player that helps a lot, but I can’t watch most of the films I get on screener at the kids’ school, where I do most of my work through the week. Oddly enough, school personnel and other parents get a little testy about kids accidentally glimpsing any nudity or violence.
But I came home all grumpy from being struck in traffic all day to find Mike had decided to surprise me by installing a flat screen TV on the wall in front of our bed, complete with a DVD player. So I can watch awards seasons screeners on a big screen, without competing with kids for TV time now. Huzzah. Now all I need is surround sound.
2. The Art of Drew Struzan. I got sent this book about the work of prolific movie poster artist Drew Struzan a while back. It arrived while I was at TIFF and got set on a pile of boxes we still havent unpacked and so I didn’t see that it had arrived until last night.
And holy cow! It is tremendously cool book featuring the movie posters and one-sheets created by this masterfully talented artist, and it would make an excellent Christmas gift if you have a cinephile or fan of pop art in your life. I had a hard time putting it down once I started flipping through it. It’s a like a history of movies through posters. Star Wars. Indiana Jones. Back to the Future. Harry Potter. Amazing artwork, fascinating background information. Recommended, especially if you are a cinephile or an aspiring artist (or have one in your life).
3. I need to get a big magnetic flow chart to keep track of all the moving around in our insular industry.My good friend Eug Hernandez is leaving indieWIRE and I can’t imagine one without the other. I know Eug will be happy in his new gig and amazing at it.
Meanwhile another good friend, Anne Thompson, is taking on a bigger role at iW and I know that Anne and Brian Brooks, and James Israel, and Peter Knegt will continue to do great things — everyone over there is smart and canny and on top of things and they will be fine. And in a way, it shows the strength of what Eug helped build at iW that he can finally move on and know that what he built is strong and will sustain.
Also, I saw the other day that Todd McCarthy is leaving his post at iW and moving to The Hollywood Reporter (I know, I know! I told you I’m behind). To be honest, while I liked Todd’s writing at iW it always felt to me like it would probably be a filler gig for him. Trades are his thing, and frankly, if you can still score a big paycheck in this field nowadays, more power to you. Todd’s well-liked and he’s a fantastic writer. I’ll still be reading him and most likely, so will you.
On the other hand, Todd’s departure might be good for Eric Kohn, who got kinda inadvertently shoved back in Todd’s shadow after being announced as iW’s film critic. Eric’s a good guy and a very smart, solid writer. I worked with him at Cinematical and liked him then, and he’s done nothing but grow as a writer since then. It would be great to see iW really give him some room to find his voice and see where he goes.
Probably just while I’ve been writing this someone else has lost a gig, or landed a new one. As for publicists, they move around so much I need a separate magnet chart just to keep track of who’s working where on a weekly basis. Trying to keep up with that is an exercise in futility.
4. Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir and Roger Ebert engaged in some wordy fisticuffs over O’Hehir’s slam of Secretariat, which I actually agreed with in a lot of respects. I like it when critical colleagues can engage in smart debate about the merits of a film. If only there was a tv show where a couple smart guys argued about movies … This back-and-forth has been one of my favorite reads this week.
Update: I just saw on David’s Twitter feed that he’s siding with Ebert on this one. Which is cool, we disagree about stuff all the time. But I think calling Andrew’s review of Secretariat Armond White-esque is maybe a bit (okay, a lot) harsh. Andrew’s initial review was intentionally hyperbolic, yes, but he made some valid points — many of them issues that my guy and I discussed on the drive home right after the screening.
Can a movie be both intentionally feel-good and unintentionally evoke a sense of soft-pitch, “life was better then” propaganda? I’m not saying I’d go so far as to argue the filmmakers were deliberately obscuring reality for the sake of the soft sell, but I think Andrew had some valid points to make about covert racism in the film with the villainization of Pancho and the jolly, “Yes, Mizzus” depiction of Eddie Sweat, who’s not quite, but almost, a “magical Negro” in the film. I just took greater umbrage with the film’s castration of feminist issues.
5. I wrote a longer piece about this which I ended up not pushing out, but I am just really feeling done right now with engaging in a lot of blog discussions/arguments. I’m tired of how ugly and personal that shit gets, of how people will say hurtful, mean things when they’re shielded by the relative safety of internet space that they would never say if they were face-to-face with someone.
I love social networking. It’s how I stay in touch with most of my far-flung work colleagues between fests and to a large extent Facebook in particular I use to filter things I might be interested in reading more about that I otherwise not know about.
I do not love the pissing in the sandbox bullshit that permeates a lot of what used to be smart, intellectual discussion space on many of the film blogs I read regularly, and I’ve decided to take a bit of a hiatus from commenting, or even allowing myself to get drawn into reading, those discussions that turn into sniping or shallow pettiness. It feels good not to get emotionally engaged in the insular drama of this industry for awhile.
6. Also: Forgot to mention, the final Harry Potter films will NOT be in 3-D. Which is about the best news we’ve had in a couple months.
A couple things I should probably care about more than I do:
1. Carl Icahn and Lionsgate going to court. Vaguely aware of this, but not enough to have a particular interest in the outcome.
2. Oscars moving to January. I mean, I do care about this from the standpoint of any impact it might have on my job. But I don’t have any emotional investment otherwise about Oscar, so long as it doesn’t interfere with Sundance.
Caught up with, but kind of wish I hadn’t…
More discussion about Armond White.? Really? Can we just get a moratorium on him, please? If you think he’s crazy but worth reading, awesome. Read him. If you think he’s crazy and not worth reading, don’t fuel the fire or interest others in reading him by drawing attention to him.
Secretariat, the horse, was a big, glossy chestnut colt who won the Triple Crown and is widely regarded today as perhaps the best racehorse who ever lived. Secretariat, the movie, is big, glossy cinematic comfort food for the family in troubled times, grilled cheese and tomato soup wholesomeness to soothe the soul and take the viewer back to simpler, happier times.
In spite of its title, though,the film is not the story of how Secretariat the horse won the Triple Crown for the first time in 25 years — not exactly, anyhow. This is the story of his owner, Penny Chenery, who’s played in the film by a luminous, angelic, glowingly lit Diane Lane (and can I just say as an aside here that, if you have reason to have someone make a movie about your life, you could do worse than having Lane play you on the big screen).
Equally well cast is John Malkovich as Secretariat’s eccentric French-Canadian trainer, Lucien Laurin. Malkovich handles playing the flamboyant Lucien as effortlessly as you would expect of him; every time he’s on the screen he dominates your attention, and yeah, he occasionally munches a little scenery, but he’s fun as hell to watch.
Lane, to her credit, plays Chenery as befits honoring the woman who became one of the first female members of The Jockey Club — with spunk and vivacity, charm and fierce determination. It’s an excellent performance on Lane’s part, which makes it unfortunate that the story almost completely excises the most interesting feminist aspects out of the film, making Penny Chenery into almost a mildly rebellious PTA-mom extraordinaire, well-coiffed and resplendently elegant in heels and dresses even as she takes on the men of the racing world and kicks their chauvinistic asses.
What with the film being set roughly from 1970 to 1973, it surely must have been tempting for someone involved in this film to play up more the political aspects of the story. We have all the key ingredients here: Chenery, who held a B.A. from Smith College and had attended Columbia Business School, married Columbia law student John Tweedy and spent the next 18 years playing housewife and mother before getting roped back into her father’s racehorse business when he grew ill 1968.
But the script, based on a book about Secretariat by Bill Nack, skimps on showing us the prejudices Chenery surely faced as a woman in a predominantly male world.
There must surely have been a lot more marital tension, resentment, and familial strife in her Denver homebase when Chenery abandoned her post as general of hearth and home to pursue a racing dream than what’s depicted in the movie, which makes it seem like it all happened seamlessly. The former housewife turns prominent career woman, while her endlessly supportive husband and fresh-faced, perpetually happy and understanding children cheer her on from the sidelines. Really? Only in a Disney movie. I’m sure in retrospect her husband and kids are proud of Chenery’s achievements, but I just didn’t buy at all that her victories in her career came without any cost on the homefront.
Speaking of homefront, wasn’t there a war (excuse me, “conflict”) going on around then too? There’s complete lack of cultural context in the film, which barely tosses a reference to the political stew brewing in America at the time by giving us A.J. Michalka (who, together with her sister Alyson, compromises popular Disney group AJ and Aly) as daughter Kate, a well-off white girl who wades in the shallow end of the political pool by playing dress up with hippie clothes, painting protest signs, and writing a political play.
But this is a Disney movie with a Disney star as the daughter, kids, so Kate is a clean and wholesome sort of hippie with clean-cut, wholesome wannabe hippie friends who don’t, apparently, believe in the free sex, power to the people and pot-smoking of that era. Or at least, they certainly don’t inhale. This film could have taken some lessons from, say, television’s Wonder Years, which at least attempted to address the tension of those times within its storyline while still being entertaining.
Also, while we see Chenery get some crap from men around the racetrack, we never once see another woman question Chenery’s commitment to her husband and children because her work requires her to travel away from her family. I get comments about that myself in 2010 over my own work travel, and I just find it impossible to believe that no one ever pulled that on Chenery in the 1970s.
On the other hand, while I do think the film considerably glosses over the politics affecting the country at the time, I don’t see it as particularly being bait for conservative Christians in flyover states or Tea Party wives. Penny Chenery was no obedient little wifey. The real Penny Chenery may or may not consider herself a feminist, but certainly by the actions she took she certainly set a feminist example that a woman can be a wife and a mother and also chase a dream. And that’s not a bad message for a little girl, even one living in 2010, to get.
I’m not saying I disliked Secretariat overall. It’s well paced and edited, glossy and golden and gorgeously shot. Every scene, practically, is bathed in a golden glow, as if we’ve died and gone to horseracing heaven. The horses coats glisten with sheen, there are slow-mo shots where we see every muscle rippling under shiny coats in exquisite detail. There are shots during the racing sequences here that could be framed and hung in museums, and the visuals alone make Secretariat compelling to watch.
Director Randall Wallace does a good job as well of overcoming the considerable hurdle that we know going into the film how it ends. I mean, it’s Secretariat. It’s not a spoiler to say that he wins the Triple Crown and goes onto become a prolific producer of very valuable racehorse semen. The excitement and tension in the film doesn’t really come, therefore, from there being uncertainty as to the outcome, which is a challenge from a filmmaking standpoint.
Wallace makes the race scenes thrilling to watch, even though we know that (most of the time) Secretariat, in spite of his habit of starting at the back of the pack, would come out of nowhere with a near-miraculous burst of speed to win. The racing montage of Secretariat’s wins leading up to the Triple Crown races in particular was edited artfully, and the horse’s big battles against rival Sham are tense and exciting even though you know the outcome already.
But I almost felt sorry for Sham, a beautiful, athletic racehorse in his own right who also had the heart of a champion but here is painted as the “bad guy” standing in the way of what feels in retrospect like Secretariat’s foreordained place in racing history. And this is a problematic element in the film, one that’s not similar, actually, to the issues I had with The Social Network‘s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg as a villain for the sake of storytelling.
Here, the role of necessary bad guy is played by Sham’s trainer Pancho Martin, played by Nestor Serrano (presumably because the script and director so guided him) as a dark, smoldering, cocky, chauvinistic and inherently unlikable asshole of a guy. And hey, for all I know maybe Martin was that kind of guy, but this portrayal of him felt unnecessarily over-the-top.
Sham and Secretariat were rivals on the racetrack, yes, but Sham really was a good horse who just had the misfortune (or bad karma, maybe) to be born the same year as perhaps the best racehorse in history. It’s too bad for him, really, and I think a bit of a disservice to that horse to paint him as a classic Disneyesque sidekick-to-the-bad-guy character.
Think of the story from the point of view of Panco and Sham: Pancho has this great colt, maybe the best colt of his career, in Sham — who, in fact, also broke track records even when he lost to Secretariat. But poor Sham was doomed to be relegated to the horse beaten by Secretariat, kind of the racing world equivalent to playing “second shepherd on the right, recognized only by his mother” in the church Christmas pageant.
Andrew O’Hehir made some interesting points in his write-up of the film about Secretariat being custom-made for the same Christian segment that made a surprise hit out of last year’s The Blind Side, and as a story it’s certainly true that it follows that film’s successful formula almost to a tee. I’m not sure I’d argue for an Oscar for Lane for this role, but neither would I discount the appeal of the chipper, perky, ladylike woman who overcomes odds to the Academy voters.
I’m not sure I agree, though, with O’Hehir’s accusations of blatant Tea-Party pandering and overt racism in Secretariat, other than perhaps to a degree in the portrayal of Pancho-as-villain. Is it true that the only other significant minority in the film is Secretariat’s groom? Well, yes. Secretariat’s groom, Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) was black, there’s no getting around that. I can see the argument that the portrayal of Sweat in the film is perhaps a little “Uncle Remus,” but I don’t know that it’s an unrealistic portrayal, given the time and setting of the story.
The world of horse racing is a sport that’s almost exclusively the domain of rich white men and their rich white wives who like to wear big hats to the Kentucky Derby while they sip mint juleps, which is what makes Penny Chenery’s place in racing history that much more interesting. I guess I take issue more with the castration of the feminist element, as it were, than with any latent racism in the film.
Overall Secretariat is to me an interesting blend of the feel-good Disney family movie and an attempt to make a classier, artsier movie out of a racehorse story while maybe angling for the Oscars, but that doesn’t make it an unenjoyable film. As a film to see with the kids, it’s not a bad choice, even if for me, it’s painted a little too broadly and uninterestingly to launch it significantly into year end or awards consideration. Secretariat plays as more of a feel-good crowd-pleaser than compelling art, but for what it is, that’s probably good enough.
I had mixed feelings about It’s Kind of a Funny Story, directed by Half Nelson and Sugar directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. They were so mixed, in fact, that I ended up doing something I’ve never done at a fest before — I saw the film twice, once at a P&I screening and once at its public premiere.
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