Wednesday, June 22, 2005
I just wanted to put in my opinions on SIFF 2005. As a whole, I didn't enjoy it as much this year as I have previous ones. To be fair, this could have been due to time and money constraints, resulting in me seeing less than 13 films this year, as opposed to my usual 20+.
But - I also felt like the selection of films this year was less appealing to me. I don't know why -- they had more films than usual, and there were quite a few interesting ones. I can't quite pin down why this seemed so, unless it was the lack of the horror-movie genre (my personal favorite), whose scant offerings were all at times I couldn't accommodate.
I was also disappointed in the venue changes; I'll admit, for purely selfish reasons. I live on Capitol Hill, so having all the venues located around the hill and downtown pretty much rules, as it's very easy to get to all them by either walking or taking 1 bus, so as not to have to bother with the parking problem. Plus, seeing films at the Cinerama is awesome because of the excellently huge screen. The Neptune was fine, but took a little more effort to get to, and I couldn't even bring myself to see anything at the Uptown. I stand by my statement of: "Lucas ruins everything" and I hope that the Cinerama and Pacific Place are back next year.
And, I wasn't thrilled with the "Evening with Peter Sarsgaard" -- as it turned out, it was about 45 minutes with Peter Sarsgaard after Sharon Waxman's introduction and some movie clips were shown. He was totally boy-next-door sweet, and absolutely adorable, so I was almost satisfied. I was just a little confused that they didn't present the Outstanding Achievement In Acting award at the Evening With portion of that night's activities, but I suppose seeing the briefest glimpse of Maggie Gyllenhaal while she embraced him behind the curtain of the Egyptian made up for that. It was still nowhere near as cool as the "Evening with Jeff Goldblum" last year.
The films I saw were mostly pretty good -- there were only a few that I didn't care for. The rest were enjoyable with just a few bordering on great, meaning I'll be looking to purchase them when they come out.
I'm really hoping to get a Full Series Pass next year, and possibly take some time off work so I can make my SIFF experience better in 2006.
While Jeana (Estella Warren) is dating Tom (the local hunky television reporter who's not all that bright), he unfortunately reveals Jeana's virginity to the entire city while on the air, resulting in her questioning whether he's right for her - and in the mean time running into his cameraman, Paul (Christian Kane), several times accidentally and possibly falling for him.
Even though all the usual romantic comedy situations happen: girl may be with the wrong boy, can't see that the right one is in front of her; the sexy ex-girlfriend as her nemesis; the dorky over-protective friend (played excellently by Rachel Dratch) -- the screenwriters (Debra & Jim Meyers) manage to throw in some pretty funny surprises. The best of which (IMO) is the media frenzy Jeana creates by inspiring women to create a group called V.A.G.U.E. (Virgins Against Guys Under Evolved). I know, I know, it's kind of lame, but it made me laugh. Particularly when random V.A.G.U.E. members would threaten or talk back to Tom and other guys they felt were "holding them back".
All in all, it was pretty formulaic, but I didn't hate it - there was too much to like. I appreciated that Jeana's confusion seemed very real and that nothing in the film was solved magically or written as such that you couldn't see it happening in real life. It was less "movie-moment" and more stuff you see happen around you in people's relationships.
The Q&A after the screening was with Christian Kane, Estella Warren, Debra & Jim Myers, and Director Charles Matthau. Charles' one-word answers were amusing, and the screenwriters had a lot of interesting things to say about the process of writing the film and being involved with the making of it. You could tell that everyone involved had fun during the shoot.
I'll admit, even though Christian Kane is a little too "southern boy" for me, I was drawn in by his strong arms and dreamy eyes enough to fantasize about asking him if I could buy him a whiskey and hang out. And my previously imagined image of Estella Warren as a typical model-type was destroyed -- she was warm, funny, and charming. If I'd been a feeling a little bolder that night, I might have asked them both out...
Friday, June 17, 2005
Saturday, June 11, 2005
I had to stop by the press office on Friday afternoon and who should I see waiting for the W Hotel's "up" elevator, but Junebug's Ben McKenzie. He was wearing a blazer, so I almost didn't recognize him. Otherwise, he looks just as he does on screen; well, expect for the moustache he sports in the film. I was waiting for the "down" elevator and it arrived just as I figured out who he was or I would've said something.
Ben McKenzie sporting a small 'stache
So then I went to see Ellie Parker the next day. Yes, I too went on the recommendations of Gillian and Neil. While I didn't like it as much as they did, I liked it well enough. That said, I don't think I've seen Naomi Watts give a bad performance. Granted, I still haven't seen Tank Girl...apparently, it was on the set of said film that writer/director Scott Coffey first made her acquaintance, as he noted after the screening. She deserves a lot of credit for working on the low profile, micro-budget Parker for as long as she did--five years--purely for the love of it. Coffey said she wasn't paid and that the shoot cost around $500 (!). He also mentioned that it'll be getting released in December, around the same time as King Kong, so here's hoping the mega-publicity surrounding Peter Jackson's epic benefits his film, too.
Phil Morrison sporting a strange 'stache
In any case, while I was waiting for the film to begin, I heard two gentlemen behind me talking about what sounded like Junebug. One stepped away for a minute, which gave me a chance to turn around and ask the guy with the Southern accent if he was the director (Phil Morrison). Bingo! Well, I let him know I enjoyed his film and that I ran into Mr. McKenzie the day before. I told him that I had recently reviewed the first season of Pete & Pete for a certain on-line merchant and noticed in the Junebug press notes that he had directed an episode. "Which one was it?" I asked. "Well, I arrived somewhat late in the game," he replied. "Don't Tread on Pete." "I've seen that," I said. "It's on the DVD set." "Really?" he asked. "You didn't know?" I responded. "No," he said. "I'm glad they're making it available." And with that we had a few words about Junebug (I told him I liked Allesandro Nivola's singing in the film, he told me he hadn't seen "The O.C." before casting McKenzie, etc.) and then Ellie Parker began. Anyway, he seemed nice, and I'm glad I got to chat with him, however briefly.
Note: Poster and production photos from Sony Pictures Classics.
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
Emily Wang (Maggie Cheung) is a struggling rock singer with a drug addiction whose husband dies of an overdose, sending her to prison for possession for 6 months. Their child Jay lives with his grandparents (Nick Nolte and Martha Henry) due to Emily's inability to take care of him. After she's released, her father"n-law strikes a deal with her: she must stay away from her son -- unless she's willing to turn her life around. You would think that a film about a woman trying to regain her hold on life by kicking a heroin habit so she can get custody of her child would be gripping, or at least interesting. Alas, neither of those statements can be applied.
There was virtually no character development for anyone, not even for the main character. Because of this, I didn't really care what happened to anyone in the film. Also, no "struggle" was ever really evident. I was expecting a lot of ups and downs to occur during Emily's journey to kick her habit and get her son back, but it was just completely flat and uninteresting. I was waiting for the entire length of the film for something (anything!) to happen, and it never did.
It seemed like several situations presented themselves that could have added dramatic tension to the story (i.e. finding her dealer's dead body, encounters with a younger female admirer, even conflict with her husband's other lover), but the director and screenwriter (Oliver Assayas) skipped over them entirely. Even at the moment when there should be a battle for Jay's custody, there just is none. The only reason it earned 2 stars from me was because I thought Maggie Cheung made the most of the dialogue and story that was given to her. Nolte appeared to be "phoning in" his performance, and the grandparent's story was so disconnected from Emily's that I wasn't even sure it was part of the same film.
I left this film feeling like I hadn't watched anything; normally I'm playing the movie back through my mind and thinking about how certain scenes made me feel, but I was just entirely empty. The quiet and scattered applause from the audience seemed to indicate that many others had the same experience.
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
I didn't see Me and You and Everyone We Know - though I wish I had now that I've heard everyone's strong love"t-or-hate"t reactions. Truth is: I just couldn't afford to fork out the required monies. I got to tag along to the after-party with some of the talent (The Posies) because for some reason they thought I was worthy enough to be included on the "guest list".
Since I'd never been to an Opening Night Gala before (again, the money issue), I was pretty excited to be invited along...especially upon learning that I would be able to get into the coveted VIP room. I tried to get dressed up, but I just wasn't feelin' it so I settled for black capris, a tank top, and my sparkly sequined shoes. Of course I felt seriously underdressed next to my female friends who were decked out in frou-frou gowns and had immaculate hair and makeup, but there was nothing to be done but make the best of it. Also, I was still more dressed than a lot of people there, so it wasn't as if I'd stumbled into a black-tie event by mistake.
My beautiful red-headed friend and I arrived via taxi just as hoards of people were rushing into the building - er, well. Trying to rush would be a more appropriate term I guess. It resembled a huge cattle-call more than anything, with people shuffling slowly up the stairs. Luckily, we got to head straight past the stairs and into the little alcove that contained the VIPs. I said my hellos to my friends, and then dashed over to the bar to grab what I could, as I'd been warned that it gets ugly up there. In truth, the bar line moved fairly quickly despite the number of people at it; it was the food line that became too horrendous for me to tackle. I never made it to the sushi and had to settle for the chocolate truffles scattered across the tables (pure torture, I assure you). Of course, this only aided in my mission: to get as drunk as possible on the free gin & tonics...and I definitely succeeded.
I managed to miss the other band(s?) entirely, as I was caught up in having fun with my friends and trying to figure out if Jennifer Connelly was indeed in the room. It turns out she was not - it was a girl who looked a LOT like her (I don't think we were the only ones who were temporarily fooled); her nose was just a little different. Mostly the room seemed to be populated by SIFF employees, many whiskered writers, tons of cute local musicians, and what I call "Aspiring Starlets": girls who are so tan that their perfect white teeth gleam with a blinding brightness from under their blown-out hairstyles, and whose breasts are prominently displayed in low-cut dresses. I somehow doubt any discoveries were made in the VIP room that night, but maybe. Who knows?
After a bit, we headed up to the 2nd floor to watch The Posies get their rock on via the super-secret special elevator (again avoiding the stair crush - yay!), which was another special treat for me, as the 3 gin and tonics I had socked away already were deluding me into believing that I was some kind of international party girl. I continued to get drinks during the show from the very cute bespectacled bartender to the left (my right) of the stage, while alternately dancing wildly, screaming out lyrics, loving the new Posies songs, flirting, grabbing my girls and hugging them - and having the time of my life.
I've read that several people found the party boring -- that wasn't my experience, but maybe it just depended on who you were with?
In any case, I finally got home via another cab, in which the cab driver somehow got 'round to asking me what I thought of sex...presumably with him, and also managed to exclaim that my ex-husband was "asshole" for leaving me (don't ask). Thank god my sober girlfriend rescued me and made sure I got home safely.
Also, 6 drinks seemed like a good idea at the time, but my body sure hated me the next day. My only memento from the evening (besides dehyrdation and a pounding headache) is the tiny tin of Bombay Sapphire mints that the sponsors provided. What can I say? I have no will power when open bars are involved.
I went into this movie expecting a raunchy comedy about a man who concludes that American women are too much trouble and decides to buy a mail-order bride from China, only to find that his bride is not as subservient as expected. It turns out that my expectations were nowhere near the scope of this script.
At times, Maxwell Bright (Patrick Warburton) is one of the most abhorrent male chauvinist pigs ever seen (there's one particularly disturbing scene where he orders his wife to disrobe in front of his friends)...yet you can still see the soul behind this character - he's not all bad, he's not all good; he's just very, very human. Marie Matiko plays Mai Ling, his bride and "angel"; showing Maxwell that everyone has goodness in them, and redemption is possible at any time. I also have to mention that Eric Roberts delivers the best performance I've ever seen from him, as Max's loyal best friend (and foot-stool).
The film has its flaws -- it was shot on PAL and the color and lighting are very inconsistent, there are a lot of jarring hand-held movements, the arc of the story takes some strange turns -- but it still evoked a lot of strong emotions in me, and the characters were very genuine and tangible. It's a movie that made a lasting impression, despite the problems it had.
Warburton and Matiko attended the screening and expressed their happiness during the Q&A at being able to participate in this film, explaining that it was the kind of work that actors long to do -- something that will hopefully have an impact on people who see it. I definitely recommend seeing it; even if you don't like it, I'm confident you'll get something good out of it.
Monday, June 6, 2005
(Michael Parness, USA, 2005, 91 mins.)
Ever since Harold and Maude became one of the more surprising hits of the 1970s, one young American filmmaker after another has hoped and prayed lightning would strike twice and that they'd be blessed with their own personal cult classic. While there have been a few sparks here and there, for the most part, it hasn't.
The concept should've scared me away from the start, but I decided to give Max
and Grace a try due to the fine work much of its cast has done elsewhere: Natasha Lyonne in The Slums of Beverly Hills, Lorraine Bracco on The Sopranos, etc.
Alas, Michael Parrish's feature film debut is one in a long line of calculatedly quirky rom-coms that feel more cynical than sincere. The premise, in brief, is this: Max (David Krumholtz, who'll be in town with Parrish to support the film) and Grace (Lyonne) are two suicidal mental patients who fall in love, get married, escape
from the institute and go off on a journey of self-discovery. Ugh. Max and Grace
has its moments (I liked the dream/fantasy sequences), but fails to catch fire.
That said, I don't mean to suggest that Harold and Maude was a "perfect" film or the template by which all off-beat romantic comedies should be judged (that would be The Graduate!). The concept, after all, is pretty preposterous-in theory, at any rate.
But in the hands of the right actors, like Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort, and, most importantly, the right director, like the great Hal Ashby (Shampoo, Coming Home,
and Being There), Harold and Maude managed to be as bizarre as all get-out and genuinely touching at the same time. David O. Russell and Wes Anderson have come close to capturing some of its unique alchemy in their early films, like Spanking the Monkey (1994) and Rushmore (1998), but most others have failed-spectacularly.
My advice to other young filmmakers out there with visions of a post-millenial Harold and Maude in their heads: There was only one Ashby and, alas, he is dead.
Postscript: My Suicidal Sweetheart is not currently available on DVD, but Krumholtz can be seen every Friday night on Numb3rs, where he has become a brainy sex symbol. He is also committed to appear in the sequel to Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
My friend and I arrived at The Egyptian around 8:15 to get in line for the 9:00 showing. We noticed that the rush ticket line was unusually long -- like, longer than I've ever seen a rush line. I believe when the theater employees came out to count, it was 60+.
We had gotten in the ticket holders line early enough to be just around the corner of the building, but the line quickly grew and ticket holders eventually stretched down the entire length and around the corner on the other side. At this point, we realized that it was 8:55, and they hadn't started seating yet. Around 9:15, an employee came out and told us that the film before had run over by 45 minutes so it would be a little bit before we could get in, as they had to clear the theater first.
Since we had underestimated how cold it was outside (neither of us had jackets on), we discussed selling our tickets to a few people in the rush line - trying to figure out how we could offer them to the cute girls we had our eye on in the middle of the line without offending anyone else. We also became the "hub" of the line; everyone would stop right where we were to ask if our line was the ticket holder's line. One guy who stopped exclaimed it was odd that the ticket holder's line was so long and the rush ticket line was so short*...after talking for a bit about that, he seemed to get nervous, glanced around and exclaimed, "Oh hi guys, I'm a ticket holder too!". Maybe he thought the crowd would turn ugly or something. I think he ended up ditching because he didn't want to go to the end of the (now gigantic) line.
As luck would have it, the venue manager for the theater came 'round shortly after that and offered people $10 a ticket, in order to shorten the line and make sure they didn't have to turn too many people away. We volunteered, she took our tickets, 10 minutes later the line started moving in, and we collected our cash and were on our way.
Note: The friendly Egyptian employee with the long hair (who I always see at SIFF, but still don't know his name) also informed everyone that 5X2 would be playing at The Varsity soon -- so everyone who missed it at SIFF can catch it there.
*yeah, I didn't get it either.
Sunday, June 5, 2005
Friday, June 3, 2005
I'll admit that this film wasn't perfect; I found the stylistic way of presenting the computer chats towards the middle of the film to be kind of distracting, and the ending seemed to leave some people scratching their heads with the odd direction it took -- but overall the dialogue was strong, the story kept my interest, and the acting was pretty amazing (which makes up for a lot, in my opinion).
Before the film, Sarsgaard was awarded The Golden Space Needle Award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting, and he introduced this film saying something about how it was his best...well, maybe not his best film, but definitely one of his best performances (unfortunately, I wasn't taking notes). I think I agree. Although you would have a hard time getting me to say that any of his performances are less than stunning.
Tony Comes is a firefighter, family man, and a genuinely good guy. He was sexually abused during several of his teenage years by a priest at his church, but had suppressed those experiences until he buys a new house with his family -- and finds that the priest lives in another house just down the block. Prompted by the urge to protect others from the same experience, he reports the incidents to his church, and the church begins a cover-up operation to protect itself form scrutiny.
What follows is a terribly emotional journey for Tony in which he questions his church, his family and friend's loyalty, and witnesses the disintegration of his marriage because he can't get the justice he needs in order to move on. All the while, he's clinging to his faith in god and trying to reconcile that with the Catholic Church he grew up in. How can he trust them now? Some of the most poignant moments in the documentary come from the cameras director Kirby Dick provided Tony and his wife Wendy, in order to record their own thoughts. Some of the most frightening moments come from the abuser's deposition, in which it's clear that he has no idea what he's done to these boys was (or still is) wrong.
I'd also like to add something here about the audience I saw this with: I am not a religious person by any means, and organized religion drives me up the wall -- however, when there's a lot of laugher (of the ha-ha funny variety, not the uncomfortable variety) during a very serious and sad documentary, and the Q&A leads people to ask questions about why Tony wanted to continue going to church, I find it kind of insulting. It was clear that he wanted to keep his strong connection to god, and he wasn't sure if he could still do that through a church that had lied and not protected him, but man. It was the only way he could hold on to it, and since he was losing everything else, it made sense that he'd cling to his beliefs.
Speaking of the Q&A, it was just as emotional as the documentary itself. In addition to the director, one of the abuse survivors, Matthew Simon, came up to answer questions and the entire audience exploded out of their seats and clapped and cried with him. I recommend you see this (premiering on June 28th on HBO); just be prepared to take a long time recovering from it.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
The Cinerama's special events would be eligible, I suppose, and so would the Paramount's Silent Movie Mondays. If Hokum Hall still runs silents, them too. who else am I missing? Help me out, you guys know tons more about this than I do!
"My friend said there are a lot of honeys* here tonight, and then I turned and looked at YOU"...Um. Yeah. So basically their compliment was that I was one of a couple hundred ladies they deemed attractive. Sweet. Can't see how I passed those guys up.
Back to the jam: Those kids kicked ass. They rocked through a ton of old-school rock tunes, the best of which (in my opinion) were Barracuda, during which Miss Ann Wilson came on stage to sing vocals, the Van Halen version of You Really Got Me, and I Wanna Be Sedated, sung with Eddie Vedder. They also totally owned Rock Lobster, which is one of my favorite songs. I thought it was great that the "special guest stars" didn't overshadow the kids; they really got that it was all about the Rock School and didn't hog the stage.
During the show I became enamored with Louis Graff (and yes, I know he's dangerously underage) who rocked the guitar as hard as CJ and whose stage presence I loved -- so much so that I felt compelled to go over after the show and shake his hand, just to tell him that he ROCKED. And yes, I've washed the hand since. Really! Sometimes I can be a fangirl, but I'm not that much of a fangirl.
*PS: I'm still a little horrified that someone used the term honeys to describe girls in real life.
You might find Paul's methods of getting the kids to learn abrasive or just plain wrong (he frequently uses curse words and treats them as they treat him), but as he says, "He gets results". Boy howdy, does he get results. I was particularly pleased to see that Paul doesn't coddle the kids. If they're not getting it, he'll tell them to practice more - if they're still not getting it; he will suggest they try something else.
Particular standouts in the film are Madi, a girl whose voice sounds WAY older her scant teenage years, Eric, who bangs the drums harder than anyone I've ever seen, and CJ, a 12 year old who WAILS on his guitar, perfectly mastering Hendrix, Van Halen, Zappa, you name it, he can play it. And of course, the angelic twin boys who like to rock out to Ozzie on drums and guitar win the "awwww" award for their cuteness and enthusiasm.
Another standout in the film is Will, who despite his musical shortcomings won my heart with his Eeyore-like teenage musings. Even though Will doesn't continue in Rock School, you can sense that just being there for a short time really helped him. That's pretty rare, and pretty cool.
Say what you will about Paul Green, it's apparent that sometimes he does more than just teach kids how to be rock stars. What else can I say? I was impressed, and I absolutely wish I could have gone to rock school when I was a kid.
Ralph Walker (Adam Butcher) just can't seem to do anything right...and he has special troubles with the not committing any sins part. With his father dead and his mother in the hospital (for a mysterious brain illness that's never clarified), he lives on his own by faking the fact that his grandparents are alive. When his mother's condition worsens to a coma, Ralph gets the bright idea to stage a miracle to bring her out of it -- the miracle being that he'll win the Boston Marathon (since he's been forced to join the track team as punishment for one of his many transgressions).
And really, with a plucky Jennifer Tilly (his mom's nurse), and the wise ex-marathon runner/current priest (Campbell Scott, looking terribly out of place in his priest robe) behind him, how can he lose? Throw in a love interest, and you've got gold - or vomit, I guess, depending on how you process a story designed to be so very "uplifting".
It's got all the terrible caricatures you'd expect, but somehow it seemed to come together. If you disagree, I'm fully willing to blame my acceptance of this film on the state of my girly hormones the night I saw it.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
While I'm on the subject of links, I should note that Andy Spletzer took note of the doins' hereabouts in a recent issue of The Stranger, although I have yet to dig the piece up online. Thanks, bearded one!
Last but not least, Robin Slick, a proud parent of some of the kids seen in Rock School noted GGG's piece on the show here in town at the Croc. Persons who attended that show might be interested in Ms. Slick's photo-heavy three-part coverage of the show.
Other contributors, especially those new to blogging: by all means, feel free to post links such as these or other links of interest to your own experience of SIFF. The web is watching, and it knows you are here!
Jen (Sylvia Chang), a mother with 3 boys, is running a restaurant in Singapore famous for the specialty dish: Hainan Chicken Rice. Since her 2 oldest sons are gay, her primary concern is making sure her youngest, Leo (LePham Tan), turns out straight -- which she tries to help along by hosting a beautiful female French exchange student named Sabine (Melanie Laurent) -- while also avoiding the affections of a long-time family friend who runs another restaurant down the street. While Jen thinks she is in control of everything, it turns out she actually has a lot to learn about life, love and happiness, which she does from Sabine (who honestly, I couldn't quit staring at, and totally bought as someone who'd be able to seduce anyone she met, even if they didn't initially like her).
There were a lot of genuinely funny and touching moments in this film, and while that may sound cliche, it's true. Most of the audience was laughing right along with me, particularly when they showed skinned chickens and ducks with their heads still on (which I guess is something I didn't think was that hilarious - "Hey! Look! Dead animals with heads on!). There was quite a bit of applause at the end, so it seems like it was appreciated all around.
My enjoyment of this film was such that it wasn't even ruined by the late-entering guy next to me, whose constant commentary included such gems as, "She's French! And she's eating French toast...ha-ha!".
Sometimes she likes to write movie reviews in her blog and pretend she's some kind of professional. She doesn't believe in being a "film snob" and thinks that big studio movies deserve as much of a chance as Indies, but she does have strong opinions about directors she favors or dislikes.
She's very excited about sharing her SIFF opinions and experiences with others via SiffBlog, which will further the illusion that people actually read what she writes.
So here's a hearty Bronx cheeer for the boob!