Thursday, May 31, 2007

I Totally Invented This Thing in 2001

The Boston Herald reports that some schmoe has finally passed off the invention—which up to this point only existed in my mind—as his or her own. The Regal Entertainment Group has tested the Guest Response System, with mostly favorable responses. My idea: the picture's out of focus? Some asshole won't turn off his cellphone? Don't want to miss five minutes of the movie to tell the theater employee? Now you don't have to. I always pictured the buttons built into the seat, and not limited to one specially selected snitch, but the basic idea is the same:

"Select patrons will get a pagerlike device to notify managers of concerns inside the theater. This new breed of hall monitor can alert theater authorities by pressing either the “picture,” “sound,” “piracy” or “other disturbance” button.

The last button can flag anything from ringing cell phones to loud talkers."

I guess I should have patented it or something…
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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Back in the states and still recovering

In my mind, I had already posted my last column from In while I was at Cannes, which includes my thoughts on the deserved Palme d'Or winner, "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days." I guess the stress of Cannes got the better of me and I just assumed that it posted itself. Other than Julian Schnabel's Best Director award for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," most of the Stephen Frears's jury's selections are rather bizarre, but at least they got the big one right.

On Sunday, the Tribune ran my interview with U alum Isaac Chung, whose new film about the Rwandan genocide played in Un Certain Regard.

More to come soon.
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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Kustirica Closes Out the Competition

Emir Kustirica is unlikely to win a third Palme d'Or for his ridiculous but amusing "Promise Me This." Charming enough to get by but not funny enough to explain its nonsensical, broad-comedy plot about a young peasant who comes to the big city to fight gangsters and woo a bride twice his age, the film was nevertheless a nice cap to the 22 Official Competition entries, most of which were not what you might call "jolly." The other competing film that screened today, "Mourning Forest," for example, slowly followed a crazy guy and a young woman through the forest for a couple hours. Too much may have been going on in "Promise Me This," but at least it was something.

What will win? Julian Schnabel's excellent "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" has been picking up word—even Chris Bellamy, who couldn't be arsed to see the thing, thinks it will win. My four other favorites are the festival's surprise hit, "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days" from Romania, Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park," Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men" and Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof." Of those films' directors, only Romanian Cristian Mungui hasn't won the Palme d'Or. Yet.
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Thursday, May 24, 2007

You, the Living Must See 'You, the Living'

Due to a series of scheduling dominoes, I had a choice this morning: see "Ocean's Thirteen" or surreal Swedish director Roy Andersson's "Du Levande" ("You, the Living"). This was not a difficult choice, as Andersson's last film, "Songs from the Second Floor" premiered at Cannes in 2000 and I didn't get to see for three or four years later, and Steven Soderbergh's new film comes out in a week. After seeing "Du Levande," I only wish that I could re-erect some of those dominoes and see the it one more time.

Well worth the seven-year wait, this late addition to the Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard sidebar is a certifiable, holy-shit-that-was-amazing masterpiece. Describing a Roy Andersson film to someone who has never seen one is like telling a blind person what green looks like. The deep-focus, often static photography, hilarious gags, haunting emotions and unexcitable tableaux add up to such an unexpected sum that the film's wonders charm and hypnotize you. "Du Levande" is at once a musical, a romance, a tragedy, a comedy, a dreamscape, a series of unrelated vignettes and a cohesive unit. Andersson has created dreams within a dream world and finished it off with one of the best closing shots in cinema history.
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'Persepolis' an Animated Surprise

Could an animated film win the Palm d'Or? The possibility has been on a few tongues since yesterday's screening of "Persepolis," Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's "Persepolis," a stylish, sparsely colored but consistently vibrant tale of growing up while a country crumbles.

Adapted from Satrapi's popular autobiographical graphic novel, the film is a lively, constantly inventive and fun account of Satrapi's childhood in Tehran, Iran and life in Vienna and Paris after she left the country. Satrapi and animator Paronnaud bring out both the personalities of the characters and the history of a troubled country, while recalling different styles of hand-drawn and cutout animation.

It's been 20 years since a French film won the Cannes Film Festival's prestigious top prize, but based on the lengthy standing ovation it received in the Grand Theatre Lumiere, some people think that it could add a nice surprise to the festival's 60th celebration of film. It still has lots of stiff competition, however.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

When the Competition's Away…

With only one film screening in the Official Competition on Sunday (thanks largely to "To Each His Own Cinema," a collection of new short films about going to the movies, in celebration of the festival's 60th Anniversary), the Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard section got to spend some time in the spotlight.

"My Brother is an Only Child," an uncommonly fresh coming-of-age tale about an Italian boy who supports the dying, post-Mussolini Facism party in Italy in the 1960s while his older brother becomes a communist. Director Daniele Luchetti warmly captures the folly of immature youth with a touch of humor and character that has been lacking from many of the Official Competition entries. We see these siblings grow from teenage boys to young men, and deeply care about how their fragile, shaky lives turn out.

The Chinese film "Mang Shan" ("Blind Mountain") directed by Li Yang, centers around an outstanding performance by its leading actress, Huang Lu. Huang plays a college student who is kidnapped and sold as an imprisoned wife in a poor, backwoods town where no one is willing to help her. The family whose son she has to marry doesn't care if she was kidnapped or not—they paid for her—and her resilient quest for escape only leads to greater pain.

The film plays like a cyclical nightmare, and the ending is a perfectly frank commentary on where this kind of helplessness leads people. Unfortunately, the lousy Chinese government plans to make Li change this ending to make them look better. Stupid government censorship. I guess that's why you've got to see 'em at Cannes.
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Van Sant, Schnabel, Coens and Tarantino (With the Lapdance) Triumph

I only care about Americans in my latest Cannes report for Film Threat.
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Monday, May 21, 2007

Kim Ki Duk's 'Breath' of Fresh Air (Now That's a Headline!)

Kim Ki Duk's latest film, "Soom" (translated originally as "Breathe" but now as "Breath") is about a connection between a man and a woman who barely know each other but desperately need connection. The man is a murderer on death row who constantly tries to kill himself, only to be kept alive until the execution. The woman is in a loveless marriage with a husband who doesn't understand her, and talks at her rather than to her. After seeing the constant TV news coverage of his execution, she decides to pay him a visit.

Thanks to a prison warden who is much more lenient on the rules than the Cannes Film Festival employees, meets and performs for him in the visitation cell, which she decorates with absurd wallpaper that creates a brilliant contrast between freedom and confinement. The imagery throughout the film contrasts between the open and the confined, as the characters try unsuccessfully to break out of their prisons and find peace.

As best exemplified in his strongest film, "Three Iron," Kim likes to work in silences and small moments, and "Breath" masterfully creates character dynamics by means of who speaks (or sings) to whom and whether or not they can shut the hell up. The two leads both add to Kim's careful direction. Zia is fragile and exuberant. Chang Chen, who doesn't speak during the entire film, provides a range of emotions that make us see his character as more than just a killer.
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Insert Bad Headline About 'Sicko' Being 'Healthy' Here

Michael Moore's latest film, "Sicko," shows the opinionated documentarian in full power of his abilities to tug at his audience's heart strings. "Sicko" presents a thorough arguments against HMOs and the priority of making money over curing the sick.

Moore started moving away from his trademark ambush interview in "Fahrenheit 9/11," and his only such tactic in this involves a half-hearted, just-for-fun effort to obtain healthcare from the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military base in Cuba (the trip also launched a government probe, which has been the source of much conversation on the Croisette).Here, he presents a collection of personal stories like he did in his first and best film, "Roger and Me." We meet the people directly affected by the corporate healtchcare mentality, and learn first-hand about the process of refusing people's care—all with Moore's usual combination of humor and compassion. Moore also visits countries to show how happy people are with socialized medicide (although he didn't need to spend full sequences in Canada, England and France to prove his point).

However, I fear that Moore may be intentionally underplaying issues like the over-crowding in Canadian hospitals, which he should have learned by now could come back to bite him in the ass. The healthcare systems in other countries are portrayed as a bit too utopian, which can only hurt the film's credibility. That doesn't mean that universal healthcare is a failure. It's just better to acknowledge the issues and address how they can be fixed if the United States were to adopt such a system.
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Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Coens Are Back

After a pair of limp offerings, Joel and Ethan Coen have delivered a consistently tense, brilliantly acted film in "No Country for Old Men." The only major flaw in the film, which premiered at Cannes on Saturday, is that the most tense, horrifying chase scene in a decade comes in the middle of the film, leaving things to peter out a bit by the end. I'll write more later, but must inform all immediately that Javier Bardem's performance is probably the most sinister, amusing and troubling incarnation of evil in years.
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Friday, May 18, 2007

The Cannes Competition, Days 1-3

In just two days, the Cannes Film Festival's Official Competition has already displayed a variety of nations and styles: Wong Kar Wai's opener, "My Blueberry Nights," of which I wrote about two days ago, David Fincher's "Zodiac," which I wrote about several months ago, Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," from Romania, Andreï Zviaguintsev's "The Banishment," from Russia, and Christophe Honoré's "Les Chansons d'Amour" ("Love Songs"), From France. I've already written about some of these for Film Threat.

So far, the top of the competition is "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days," which swiftly and starkly portrays an illegal abortion in 1980s Romania during the dying days of the Soviet Bloc. With unflinching realist bluntness, it follows a college student as she helps her friend get an abortion. Reminiscent of the Dardenne Brothers and fellow Romanian Cannes alum "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," it tells its horrific story with compelling simplicity.

The performances are all outstanding, living up to the unblinking scrutiny of Mungiu's camera, which captures most of the scenes in long, unbroken takes. As the abortionist, Vlad Ivanov sinisterly captures his character's manipulative abilities as he turns himself into a victim. And in the lead, Anamaria Marinca creates a young woman who is smart and strong, but undeniably troubled by the ever-increasing stream chaos and despair around her.

The bottom of the competition is easily "Les Chansons d'Amour," a puzzling little musical that had a very funny, short and sweet catalogue description, but didn't live up to it. The music is bland pop and the first and third acts are astoundingly unconvincing, leaving the middle as the only part with any emotional truth.

That leaves "The Banishment," a disappointing—but not awful—follow-up to Zviaguintsev's poetic "The Return." Executed with stunning direction and cinematography, the film falls short in Zviaguintsev's screenplay. The film, about a middle-aged businessman, his distant wife, his young son and daughter and his estranged criminal brother, strives for Bergman but ultimately betrays its own storytelling by miscalculating the equation for a resonant depiction of people who live in misery and aren't even comfortable communicating it.
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Sounds Like a Mess? Well, It Is!

What happens when three Hong Kong directors each helm half an hour of a feature film—not a collection of stand-alone shorts, mind you, but a feature-length story? Well, it turns out to be a complete mess. The hypothesis was tested and proven with the film "Triangle," directed by Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To (whose "Triad Election" is playing stateside now). The film, a sort of crime-drama/comedy (depending on which third you're watching), has no discernible sense of character or purpose. I almost went to the press conference just to ask if any of the directors could offer a brief synopsis of the plot, which involves smuggled money, ancient artifacts and a nonsensical love triangle involving a married couple and a cop.

To be fair, the film is occasionally entertaining. Making the final third, To must have realized that the project was a lost cause, and went for straight-out comedy. So at least I started laughing while wondering what the hell was going on.

I guess when you make a film like this through an experimental process, you better show it at Cannes, where people will be interested in the technique. If you try to show the public "Triangle" out of that context, it ain't gonna fly.
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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wong Kar Wai Finishes Film On Time—But Should He Have?

Well, Wong Kar Wai managed to get his film, "My Blueberry Nights," completed on time not only for its opening night screening at the Cannes Film Festival, but for the morning press screening as well. Commendation is in order. The film, the Hong Kong wizard's first in English, is pretty much everything you expect from a Wong film: an aimless tale of disconnected lovers, brilliant compositions, vibrant color palettes, interplay of light and color. This film won't win any new converts, but will satisfy its directors followers.

A little more time to work on it, however, and it could been more notable. As it is now, it's a little too spelled out at times, especially in its cringe-worthy voiceover narration. Singer-turned star Norah Jones delivers an inconsistent but usually passable and sometimes charming debut, with hints that her innocent, genuine aura could eventually turn into a fine screen presence. But the one thing she can't do is deliver bad lines convincingly. She delivers the already-all-to-obvious narration in the most obvious way possible. By contrast, when Jude Law narrates as her romantic interest, he manages to draw some attention away from theses glaring flaws.

The film is constructed as a road movie, but it's really just three extended vignettes—one in New York, one in Tennessee and one in Nevada. The real wow comes in the middle section, thanks to a remarkable portrayal of alcoholism from the always great David Strathairn.

Since Wong notoriously returns to the cutting room, he might want to consider a few things to adjust to improve the movie. Top among his priorities should be to pick up English well enough to realize how obvious some of the lines are, and change them appropriately. There are so many great elements in the film that it's really frustrating that it isn't as good as it could be.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I'm in Cannes. Where Are You?

I'm now in Cannes. The festival starts tomorrow and I'll be updating you with all the goings on. Dig it.

Until then, check out my stuff from last week—a review of "Blind Dating", which was shot in Ogden, Utah and is almost as enjoyable as the town, and my column about forced deadlines.
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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Raimi Turns Into Pot for Lucas's Kettle

Alright, here we go.

If you can push on through (or better yet, skip) the first six paragraphs of Roger Friedman's Fox News column, in which he rhetorically jerks off to Cate Blanchett, and the next eight, in which he discusses how much fun he had at a fancy Time magazine party, you'll find that George Lucas has jumped on the bandwagon of people bravely declaring that a fun summer action movie is not a hands down masterpiece. Lucas, who has never made a cinematic misstep in his life, doesn't like the one summer blockbuster for which Industrial Light and Magic didn't provide any special effects.

"It's silly. It's a silly movie," he said. "There just isn't much there. Once you take it all apart, there's not much story, is there?"

Well, it's not "Star Wars."

"People thought 'Star Wars' was silly, too," he added, with a wink. "But it wasn't."

I will not attempt to examine the totally not-bloated prequel trilogy and, as Lucas puts it, take it all apart. If I did, I might realize that so much happened, it there should have been five movies.
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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Compromise is a Bitch

So, there are going to be about 20 more episodes of "LOST" than the producers originally envisioned, combining for a grand total of 120. The 48 episodes after this season's finale will be spread out over three mini-seasons. From January to May every year, you'll have some LOST. Then you'll be screwed for most of the year. Repeat until 2010.

I guess it's the price the producers had to pay in order for ABC to agree to end the show before it reaches season 9 of "The X-Files" bad. I would have preferred, however, the planned that had already been pitched: One more full season, followed by one mini-season. I can only assume that I'll see how the story can go on after the season finale.

CUSE: You now know exactly where you stand in the story. We've done 72 hours and we have 48 hours to go.
LINDELOF: We're 60 percent done.
CUSE: We're over the top of the mountain and heading down the backside. And we believe that our most exciting storytelling is yet to come.
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Seven More Hours of Spidey?

In a slap in the face to the advice I gave in my column last week, Columbia Pictures is going to make three more damn "Spider-Man" movies. I think that "Spider-Man 3" is a solid summer super-hero movie and a lot of fun, but come on boys: Quit while you're ahead. The stories are wrapped up, the love story is feeling repetitive and you've got a trilogy you can be proud of. Call it quits.

Also, I never linked to my review of "Next." That was easy to fix.
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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

You Can't Stop Progress

My man Chris Bellamy recently tipped me off to an article in Variety by David S. Cohen (presumably not the same one who wrote for "The Simpsons" and "Futurama") highlighting the challenges of digital archiving..

You see, a collection of digital data may not degrade, but the media that it's stored on sure can, and how! Not that many Hollywood films have been shot on digital, but those that have are a real bitch to maintain. While you can just store an archival film print in a proper environment and ignore it for decades, nine-month-old digital files already had dropped frames. Luckily, one company found a simple way to solve the problem:

Their solution takes the data from a digital intermediate and turns it into three-color separation negatives.

In other words, they take the digital movie and turn it into good old-fashioned film.

Or they could shoot on film to begin with and save some money and worry.

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You Want Me To Do What in 48 Hours?

My latest column for In documents my adventures as a director of a film in the 48 Hour Film Project. Since writing the article, I've received more reasons to question the festival's competence and intentions, not least of which, I must admit, was the botched projection of my movie. The top of our actors' heads were cut off along with the top of the frame (this was not a TV-safe issue, and occurred with both films that were shot in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the ratio that the website suggested was preferred). The other issues were brought up to me by sponsors, who noticed that the festival receives a lot of money without giving much back.

The entrance fee of $125 or $148 only gets filmmakers a screening of their movie and TWO tickets to the screening. The festival charged more than $7 for all additional tickets, claiming at the opening event that it was to pay for the venue. But the venues, the Broadway and Tower Theatres, were apparently donated. And the sponsors who so generously donated had to pay for drinks—which were also donated—at the wrap party. I like the way the festival puts on pressure and makes filmmakers be productive. I'm just not sure whether they're giving to the community more than they're taking away. Depending on my time, I may try to do a piece that explores all aspects of the festival and gives each side its say. For now, you'll have to settle for the bitter ramblings of a man whose film was butchered.
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