Friday, January 23, 2009

A Girl and Her Dog

(Kelly Reichardt, US, 2008, 80 mins.)


If a person can't afford dog food, then they shouldn't have a dog.
-- A grocery clerk sets Wendy straight

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Once upon a time, the great character actor L.Q. Jones (The Wild Bunch, The Ballad
of Cable Hogue
) directed a little post-apocalyptic picture called A Boy and His Dog. To some, it's best known because Jones directed it. To others, it's best known because Don Johnson starred in it. Either way, the title has a pleasingly matter-of-fact ring.

The same could be said about the third film from Old Joy's Kelly Reichardt. Wendy (Michelle Williams) may not be living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, like the dog lovers in A Boy or I Am Legend, but her situation isn't that much different from the homeless father and son in Cormac McCarthy's The Road (coming to the big screen later this year). All these duos have is each other. All Wendy has is her dog, Lucy.

A boy, a dog, and his dishrag (1975)
When she first comes into view, Wendy is romping with Lucy in the Oregon
woods as her humming permeates the soundtrack. In most movies, young
person plus canine companion = good times. Wendy, as it turns out, is
driving to Alaska to work in a cannery. Except for the golden retriever,
she could be cinematic sister to Emile Hirsch's vagabond in Into the
as she's also traveled some distance to get to the Northwest,
but she doesn't connect with other people the way he does. A
glimpse at her notebook indicates that she originated in
Nebraska or passed through it on the way to the West
Coast. And that she's running out of money.
When her car won't start and the dog food runs out, it's clear that a world of hurt awaits. Yes, Wendy and Lucy is that kind of movie: the kind where the protagon-
ist's situation goes from bad to worse before ending somewhere more enigmatic.
As in Old Joy, Reichardt makes Wendy's trip into disappointment and diminish-
ed expectations one worth taking. Vittorio di Sica did the same in Bicycle Thieves
and Umberto D., the story of an old man and his dog, but it's tricky territory to navigate. And when Wendy breaks the law to provide for Lucy, the fix is in.
Part two to come...
Lucy (the director's dog)
Wendy and Lucy opens at the Varsity Theater on Fri., 1/23. The Varsity is located at 4329 University Way NE. For more information, please call 206-781-5755. As with Old Joy, Reichardt adapted the script from author/co-writer Jon Raymond's collection Liv-
(the original story is called "Train Choir"). Images from The Auteurs Notebook, Rotten Tomatoes (click the link for Jones interview), and Oscilloscope Labratories, the new distribution company formed by Mike Diamond of the Beastie Boys.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Town Not Called Malice

A TOWN CALLED PANIC / Panique au village
(Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar, Belgium/France, 2009, 75 mins.)

I can't think about this film without hearing the Jam song "Town Called Malice."
That said, the two have little in common, except that they're both a lot of fun.

a town called panic.jpg
Sitting 'round at home...watching the pictures go.

A Town Called Panic begins and ends with a hand-drawn credit sequence, but most of the movie consists of stop-motion activity. During the first few minutes, images of Gumby and Pokey, Mr. Bill, and Bob the Builder danced through my head, but then I got sucked into the story and most other stop-motion animations faded away.

The feature springs from the 2000 TV series of the same name, which Aardman An-
imations (Wallace & Gromit) released on DVD, and centers around the adventures of Cowboy, Indian, and Horse. They appear to be made out of plastic, although I'd im-
agine it's actually clay, plasticene, or some other sort of malleable substance. If their facial expressions never change, the film itself is in constant motion. The figurines move quickly, but the story is never hard to follow, and there isn't enough dialogue to create subtitle-reading fatigue, though younger viewers may feel differently.

The three friends share a roomy house in the country next to Farmer Steven (Ben-
oît Poelvoorde, Coco before Chanel). If Indian (Bruce Ellison) and Cowboy (Stéphane Aubier) are swinging singles, Horse (Vincent Patar) carries a torch for Madame Long-
ray (Jeanne Balibar, Va Savoir), a sweet-natured music teacher with a long red mane. He's so enamored, in fact, that he decides to take piano lessons. (Because the movie is in French, the trio is actually listed as Indien, Coboy, and Cheval.)

But first there's a birthday to celebrate. And that's when the trouble begins...

Click here for part two

A Town Called Panic opens at the Varsity Theater on Fri., 1/22. The
Varsity is located at 4329 University Way NE. For more information,
please click here or call 206-781-5755. Image from OutNow!
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Monday, January 19, 2009

I Turn My Camera On: Part Three

A Chat with Tia Lessin (click here for part two)

Kimberly Rivers Roberts clutches a favorite photo

How did Danny Glover come to be involved with Trouble the Water;
had he seen the completed film or had he seen a portion of it,AeP?

I guess the film had been about two years in the making, so he saw the rough cut we had after we came back from the Sundance Labs, and he had heard about the film, and so he-it was actually Jocelyn Barnes, his producing partner, somebody I've known for many, many years, and I've always liked her work. She came to one of our-we were screening the film a lot over the fall to kind of hone it-and she came in, and she was pretty stunned, and we were really needing to finish things at that point, and she said, "I need to show it to him. He's really gonna love this film."
And so shortly thereafter, we got a call from Danny, and he was very moved by it.

That's awesome, because I know he's not going to put his name on just anything. You can tell from his credits, whether it's a documentary or a fiction film, what's going to appeal to him. It fits in with his interests. I interviewed John Sayles last year about Honeydripper, and asked if he and Glover talked about politics while shooting, and he said, 'Yeah, we did a little bit,' because they're both such pol-
itical people, but he said what they mostly talked about-and I'm sure Dan-
ny's mentioned this to you, as well-is the Haitian film he's working on.

Yeah, that's right.
John said it's his dream project, and he's working hard on that, and he has, for-
tunately-and unfortunately because it's kind of controversial-a friendship with Hugo Chavez, who's helping by letting him film in Venezuela. I was looking on the IMDb, and he's gathered this list of fantastic actors, so it looks pretty exciting.

A lot of high-value actors.
Yes, Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor,AePit sounds like he's getting things
together. I hope it all happens for him, because it sounds very ambitious.

They [Glover and Barnes] have created this company called Louverture-
after Toussaint Louverture, who their film is about-and so, yeah, they're
helping to support a lot of filmmakers who do work that is socially rele-
vant and commercially viable. It's wonderful. In other words, he's not
only lending his name, they're lending their resources as a company.
He came to town [to introduce Trouble the Water]. I'm sorry I missed him.
Yeah, he flew in from Senegal. He was there for a celebration of the filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, and flew straight from there to here. That was quite lovely.
Is it true, by the way, that he has a home in Portland? If so, that's kind of convenient. He was actually here-this is the second time I've missed him-
just a few months ago with Charles Burnett for a screening of Namibia.

That's what I heard, at the African American Film Festival. I know
that he's got a home in Berkeley or Oakland-in the Bay Area.
So, I have to ask: Has Michael Moore seen Trouble the Water?
He absolutely has.
What did he say about it?
He saw it the first time when they flew us out
there. Ask him yourself-he was very proud.
He was here recently with Sicko, but I wasn't one
of the people who got the chance to interview him.

This film is quite informed by our working with him,AeP
But Kimberly [Rivers Roberts] is really the narrator.
That's right, but there are things in our film that you can see are influenced by Rog-
er and Me
and Fahrenheit 911. And it has a strong point of view. It's our point of view, but told by an outsider, so I don't think it has Moore's voice, but it has his spirit.
More to come...
Kimberly and husband Scott
Oscar nominations will be announced on Thurs., 1/22, and Trouble the Water re-
mains a top doc contender. Though most play dates have passed, it continues at San Francisco's Sundance Kabuki Cinema through 2/8. For more dates, please click here. The official website notes that Lisa Schwarzbaum, David Denby, and Roger Ebert included it on their top 10 lists. Images from Green Brooklyn and indieWIRE.