Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sundance Film Fest, Thurs. & Fri. (1/29-30), Post 3

Independent Cinema:
changing the world with cameras instead of a guns
-- an idea adapted from How to Change the World --

Thursday the 29th included one of my absolute favorite films of the festival: Turbo Kid (2015) directed by the brother-sister duo Anouk and Yoann-Karl Whissell and François Simard. Turbo Kid is a bloodbath film overflowing with 80s nostalgia in the best sense (of both bloodbath films and 80s nostalgia). It does so with genuine aplomb, absent of mockery, just pure blissful 80s films re-imagined yet in the spirit of The Goonies (Donner, 1985) and Mad Max (Miller, 1979). I posted the (graphic) youtube official trailer at the bottom of this post.

I am Michael director Kelly, actor James Franco, and crew at Sundance

I Am Michael premiered on the evening of the 29th. It is a solid film by new and promising director Justin Kelly, starring James Franco, Emma Roberts (in a minor role), and Zachary Quinto. The film's story is controversial and well known, yet the film is also noteworthy in part due to its editing techniques. One example: in a shot-reverse shot exchange between Franco and Quinto in a restaurant, the framing is such that each close-up depicts the conversant's face eying the edge of the frame while the majority of the screen is comprised of the space is behind him.

Shot A: Franco speaks to Quinto (a majority of the shot is the space behind him)


Shot B: Quinto responds to Franco (a majority of the shot is the space behind him)

The technique requires shifting ones eyes to the opposite side of the screen in order to follow the character's expressions. Rather than appearing gimmicky or trite, the technique places the audience cinematicly into the expansive head-space of each character. It is a mind expanding move that feels fresh and original. And Franco is absolutely fantastic in this role.

On Friday the 28th I concluded my festival experience with three documentaries. The Amina Profile (2014), directed by Sophie Deraspe, depicts the "Gay Girl in Damascus" blogger hoax of a few years ago when a female blogger from Syria turned out to be someone else entirely. The film sustains good questions about online virtual identities and the damage they cause by drawing attention away from important issues.

How To Change The World (Rothwell, 2015) is an oral history of Greenpeace's genesis presented with a goldmine of archival footage. And third, at a Windrider Forum event I saw Dancing in Jaffa by director Hilla Medalia. This 2013 documentary endearingly depicts both Arab and Jewish Israeli children in Jaffa who learn to accept and trust one another by dancing together in a competition. All films were attended by their directors who graciously responded to audience questions. While not my favorite films in terms of presentation and interest, all three docs were informative.

Turbo Kid Official YouTube Trailer

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sundance Film Fest, Tues. & Wed (1/27-28), Post 2

A highlight of Tuesday the 27th at Sundance--after the "Shorts Program 3" (I love shorts at Sundance)--was certainly the premier of Songs My Brothers Taught Me (Zhao, 2015) attended by producer Forest Whitaker. I also had a chance to catch a midnight screening of the jocund western with Michael Fassbender, Slow West (Maclean, 2015).

Songs My Brothers Taught Me Director Chloé Zhao and Actors John Reddy and Jashaun St. John 
(I happily/randomly ran into the director and actors on the street for this pic)

Songs my Brothers Taught Me is a coming of age story about a brother and sister on a Lakota reservation. A film which took director Chloé Zhao four years from writing to release, it represents the tension between a strong desire to leave and an intimate connection to a landscape that makes departure nearly impossible. And if you want to witness a pitch-perfect ending, this film has it--a deft combination of voice-over and imagery of the wind moving dust over the land.

On Wednesday the 28th it was fun to be sitting nearby James Franco during Listen to Me Marlon (Riley, 2014), an outstanding documentary about the life of Marlon Brando. The film is narrated, incredibly, by Brando by using tapes the famous actor recorded during his lifetime. With archival research and images set into place, the film tells the story of Brando in a moving, lively way. It will certainly be well-received on Showtime, the film's distributor.

Don Verdean writers: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess, and cast:
Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Jemaine Clement, Danny McBride, Will Forte, Leslie Bibb  

The 28th also included the incisive mainland Chinese documentary The Chinese Mayor (Hao Zhou, 2014), which I would like to devote a full post to at a later time, and concluded with Don Verdean (Hess, 2015), which was somewhere between a comedy and a drama, but always marvelous when Jemaine Clement was on the screen.
Getting an autograph from Writer/Director Rodrigo Garcia of
Last Days in the Desert

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sundance Film Fest, Monday (1/26), Post 1

This year I have the pleasure of again teaching a 1-unit class here at Sundance. Three students and I could not have had a better film to kick-off to the week than seeing Last Days in the Desert (Garcia, 2015) which premiered last night and was then presented again Monday morning. The film depicts a holy man who is trying to communicate with an absent father. I highly recommend this film which is both beautifully shot (by Emmanuel Lubezki) and scored, and stars Ewan McGregor who plays both Christ and the demon who tests him.

Afterwards, we attended a special hour long Q and A, at the Windrider Forum, with writer and director of Last Days, Rodrigo Garcia.

In the afternoon we watched a series of animation shorts entitled "Animation Spotlight" at Yarrow Theater. Since 60 short films were selected this year out of 8000 submissions, its impossible to watch a shorts program and not be blown away. Beach Flags by Sarah Saidan, which depicts an Iranian lifeguard who learns about herself by helping another, and the kinetic Palm Rot by Ryan Gillis stood out to me.

Last Days in the Desert post-screening QandA with Rodrigo Garcia, Ewan McGregor & Tye Sheridan

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Edge of Heaven (Akin, 2007): Mini-Film Review

The Edge of Heaven, which is in German, Turkish, and English, is often cited as a transnational film for good reason--it presents multiple depictions of travel, border crossings, and images of planes loading and unloading (in this case, unforgettable) cargo. In addition to the imagery, the dialogue illustrates what it's like to have one foot in two different states:
Bookseller: What's your occupation?
Nejat: I'm a professor of German in Germany.
Bookseller: That would be funny if a Turkish professor of German from Germany ends up in a German bookshop in Turkey... That fits!

Yet on the whole, rather than revealing global connectivity, the film is memorable for it's representations of disconnect. By presenting miscommunications, mis-recognitions, and inequalities that result from international policies, the film shows that transnational interconnections that should bring people closer together--such as those celebrated in trade, media, and transportation advertisements--remain hindered by income inequality, psychological burdens, and that age-old nemesis: poor timing. Perhaps the most memorable critique occurs at the ending: the credits roll before all of the conflicts set into motion have been resolved, suspending the film's narratives indefinitely.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Inherent Vice (Anderson, 2014): Mini-Film Review

Inherent Vice (Anderson, 2014) wheels its way into one's unconscious by presenting a sprawling 1970 Los Angeles cityscape, a memorable conversation between Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) and Wolfmann mid-way through the film, and a long take in Doc's place once he is reunited with Shasta. Yet it does so slowly. Anderson seems to miss the opportunity to fully punctuate its episodic structure with music and b-films as Thomas Pynchon does in his book, and its voice-over narration is at times free from the humor, critique, and psychedelic bizarre-ity of the novel, but the movie is successful by steering clear of an array of gimmicks such as cliché first-person drug-trip point-of-view shots. In the book Doc gets to a point where it's not really who he is after, but what he is after. It's a straightforward distinction that the film pleasantly and consistently gets right.

Inherent Vice Official Trailer.