Saturday, June 28, 2008

On the Set of Lynn Shelton's Humpday

Mark Duplass and Lynn Shelton

Sometimes male bonding can be taken a little too far.
-- Humpday tagline

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

Last night, through a series of neat coincidences, I ended up on the set of Lynn Shelton's upcoming film, Humpday. The shoot began on Sunday, June 22, and had been in progress for four days when my friend and I arrived at the spacious Ballard home of Matt Sullivan (founder of local independent label Light in the Attic).

We were met by line producer/unit publicist Steven Schardt and jack of all trades David Lipson (True Adolescents), who immediately made us feel welcome. It was just after 9pm. While the crew set up for their first scene and the sun disappeared over the horizon, we mingled in the backyard with Schardt, assistant director Jennifer Maas (Sullivan's girlfriend and housemate), second unit camera operator Megan Griffiths (The Guatemalan Handshake, Zoo), and actor Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project).

Schardt, a filmmaker himself (see 2004 short Boutique with James Urbaniak), thought it best not to say too much about the plot, not necessarily to keep us in suspense, but because he thought the narrative would play best if you don't know exactly where it's going.

When I interviewed Leonard's co-star Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair) during this year's Seattle International Film Festival, he described it as "a dude movie," so I suspect it shares thematic elements with Shelton's previous full-length, My Effortless Brilliance, which revolves around three men, played by Basil Harris, Calvin Reeder, and writer/musician Sean Nelson.

Leonard at Sundance Film Festival 2005
In this case, the principal cast features two men and one woman (Shelton and Trina Willard play minor supporting roles). In the first scene we caught, Andrew (Leonard) walks through the front door with cinematographer Ben Kasulke (who also shot Shelton's debut, We Go Way Back) following closely behind. Leonard finds Monica (Shelton) waiting in the entryway with a welcoming smile on her face. He lifts her up, gives her a passionate kiss, and they walk, hand in hand, into the living room. Cut. We caught three takes.

After that, the three-man camera team moved to the second floor. (There were around a dozen crew members altogether.) While they set up for the next scene, Schardt, Lipson, and Maas filled us in on the production. In the process, I learned that Maas has worked with Shelton before and that she's also behind Wheedle's Groove: The Movie, a documentary about Seattle's soul scene. Duplass showed up, and recognized me from SIFF, which was nice. We all grabbed a few bites from the craft services table and had a chat.
Regarding Facebook, to which I'm addicted, Leonard said he's wary of social networking sites, but Shelton is a believer (more in Facebook than MySpace). It was through Facebook that I ended up on the set of Humpday, and Shelton's been doing a great job of providing updates on her profile page. When I checked earlier today, I noticed she had posted the following: "Lynn Shelton has finished acting in her own film. Thank God."

Leonard became more enthusiastic on the subject of Scrabble. Duplass noted that he made a short film (2004's Scrapple) in which a man and woman (Duplass and his wife, Puffy Chair co-star Katie Aselton) play a game. (Things don't go well.) When I asked if it's possible to view it online, he recommended Atom Films and the Duplass Brothers website.

Star of the first Duplass movie
The conversation then moved on to poker--Leonard and Duplass are avid players, and made plans to get a game together later--and drug movies. I mentioned that I'd just watched a documentary, Movin' on Up, about musician and composer Curtis Mayfield, who regretted the way Superfly glamorized drug use. Mayfield says he wrote his songs to counteract the images on screen ("Freddy's Dead" and "Pusherman" aren't exactly pro-dope), but that his plan ultimately failed. Leonard said he thought all drug movies end up being pro-drugs in the end. He has a point.

The two men had such an easy rapport that I assumed they'd met before. They had. Duplass says he brought Leonard to Shelton's attention in the first place. Afterwards, Duplass headed upstairs. He and Shelton talked about his scene for awhile, and then they started to roll. In this sequence, Ben (Duplass) enters the bathroom and shuts the door (we watched via Maas's monitor). Then he looks in the mirror, runs his hand through his hair, and calls his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore). He's been drinking and explains that he shouldn't be driving. Some awkward chitchat follows. As Shelton later explained, "Alycia was on the other end of that call. She was being filmed in the other key location (a few blocks away from Maas's house) by Griffiths at the same time we were filming Mark in the bathroom."

We watched Duplass run through the scene three times. He changed his dialogue, but the gist of the conversation remained the same. I told him I liked the off-the-cuff line about the cat and the mouse; it reminded me that he had said, earlier that evening, that he and Katie are allergic to cats.

After that, we mingled around some more while the crew set up in the bedroom on the second floor. Schardt explained that they'd be shooting an intimate scene, and wouldn't be wrapping up until 3am in the morning. By this time, it was around 11pm. My friend and I decided to leave before shooting resumed at midnight. Four actors and a camera person were going to be sharing a small space, so we would've only gotten in the way. Nonetheless, Shelton recommended we take a look at the room, which was done up in filmy fabrics and blue lighting. While there, we had a brief chat with Kasulke about free food at public events (everybody's favorite!).

Regarding that last scene, I appreciate the fact that no one asked us to leave. As long as we stayed out of the way and didn't make any noise while Kasulke's camera was rolling, the crew didn't seem to mind our presence.

My Effortless Brilliance
And just so I wouldn't feel like too much of a freeloader-nibbling on goods from Cupcake Royale and the like--I washed a sinkful of dishes (I saw Leonard doing the same shortly after we arrived). Maas was appreciative. And since she had just made a tasty blueberry-peach cobbler for the crew, there was a lot to wash.

So, that was my first visit to a film set. Shelton was surprised to hear that, but no one had ever asked me before, and nor had I ever requested a visit (it never would've occurred to me). I suspected a Shelton set would make for an accommodating environment, and that was exactly what I found. Everybody seemed to know what they were supposed to do, and there were no arguments of any kind. For some observers, that might sound boring, but to me it felt like a relaxed house party (and Leonard confirmed that Hollywood movie sets are a lot less interesting).

According to Schardt, Humpday represents a 10-day shoot, which is amazing by any standard. When I spoke with Duplass a few weeks ago, he said that his shoots usually last around 19 days. And in case this report reads like a puff piece, I should note that I have no idea whether this micro-budget film will actually "work" or not. Based on the quality of Shelton's previous films, though, I have faith. The scenes were intriguing, and since she's working with a more experienced cast, the movie might even attract more attention than We Go Way Back and My Effortless Brilliance despite--or maybe even because of--the fact that she made it on a smaller scale.

In the meantime, Mark and Jay Duplass's second feature, Baghead, opens August 8 (they're already into post-production on The Do-Deca-Pentathlon), while Leonard is in pre-production on his narrative debut, Spectacular Regret, with Danny Huston, Kelli Garner, and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson.

Had I known at the time that Leonard, like Duplass, doubles as a writer/director, I would've asked him about this project (or about his music documentary, Beautiful Losers), but I had no idea until I checked the IMDb (he also has more credits than The Blair Witch Project, including episodes of CSI: Miami, Men of Honor, and Allison Anders' Things Behind the Sun).

During SIFF, I asked Shelton to keep me apprised on her distribution plans regarding My Effortless Brilliance, and I may update this post once I know more about when and where it'll be screening next. And as more information trickles out regarding Humpday, I may add those details, as well.

Endnote: Click here for my SIFFBlog interview with Shelton and here for my Tablet interview with Sullivan (his label is providing the music for Craig Johnson's Northwest-set True Adolescents, which features Duplass and Melissa Leo). Images from The Austin Chronicle, IFC Films, and SAGindie

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Seattle Premiere: Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg


SIFF Cinema starts its summer schedule with the Seattle premiere of Guy Maddin's documentary My Winnipeg - which opens June 27 and runs through July 3. You can buy tickets online here.

I'm a fan of Maddin, but to be honest I've only seen The Saddest Music in the World (at SIFF, or course!), and Twilight of the Ice Nymphs on video. I remember being obsessed at one point with tracking down all his stuff, but don't remember WHY I never made it to Scarecrow. All I can think of is that some kind of mental breakdown occured wherein I forgot about film temporarily or something...

But, back to My Winnipeg - SiffBlog's Steven wrote a great review of it here, the trailer made it look completely amazing (a personal portrait of Maddin's home town, with Ann Savage playing his MOM???? Whoa) - and let's just say that I've been waiting with great anticipation for it to open.

Hopefully I'll see some of you there!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

There Will Be Singing

And all at once
I knew at once
I knew he needed me.

Until the say I die I wonder why
I knew he needed me
It could be fantasy or maybe it's because...

He needs me
He needs me
He needs me
He needs me
He needs me
He needs me!


Years after his hitmaking day were over, the great Harry Nilsson provided the score for Robert Altman's unfairly maligned Popeye (1980), a triumph of costume and production design over story, but a sweet little comic-strip fable nonetheless.

Twenty-two years later, Paul Thomas Anderson, who went from stand-by director on Altman's final film, Prairie Home Companion, to his own acclaimed There Will Be Blood, gave shambling epic "He Needs Me" a new lease on life via Punch-Drunk Love.

In case you haven't heard the former or seen the latter, or if you could use some awkwardly charming, deeply romantic Shelley Duvall goodness to brighten your day...

A startling 28 years passed between the first time I saw Popeye and the second
(the Northwest Film Forum programmed the movie just a few months ago).
Afterwards, I wondered why I find "He Needs Me" more affecting than Bj/drk's "Pag-
an Poetry," with its similar refrain, "He loves me, he loves me, he loves me, he loves me," followed by the echo, "She loves him, she loves him, she loves him, she loves him." (Bj/drk concludes by deciding, "This time, I'm gonna keep it to myself.")
When Bj/drk sings those deceptively simple lines, you believe every word (I al-
ways assumed she was referring to Matthew Barney). And in theory, love should trump need, because the latter suggests a singer who can't live (Nilsson alert!) without the object of their affection, i.e. someone who can't stand on their own
two feet. Except Duvall's Olive Oyl doesn't sound weak or desperate, but rather
delirious in Popeye's affection. So I give the edge to Nilsson by way of Duvall.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
One of the highlights of the film is when she sings all by herself on a
moonlit pier the silly ditty "He Needs Me" and the movie soars with a
whimsical understated charm that is both memorable and wonderful.

-- Pablo Vargas on Popeye
For the original context, please click here. "Pagan Poetry" appears on Bj/drk's
2001 album, Vespertine. Images from the All Music Guide, Godless Romantic
by way of Revenge of the Castanets, and The Spinning Image.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hilarious and Poignant: The Ballad of Hal Ashby

His movies captured a messy, post-1960s America
in alternately hilarious and poignant ways.

-- Jennifer Wachtell, GOOD Magazine


Ashby and David Carradine, circa 1976's Bound for Glory
(Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

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

I've loved the work of director Hal Ashby for as long as I can remember. Along with Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese, and the late Sydney Pollack, he shaped, for better or worse, the way I look at film (I was a child of the '70s).

My parents divorced when I was three, so my childhood was divided between a West Coast Mom and an East Coast Dad. The latter took me to the darker, more action-oriented films; the former took me to the funnier, more character-driven ones.

Consequently, I associate Ashby with Mom, the Cat Stevens fan (Dad was the Dylan guy), and I can't think about Harold and Maude without thinking about Stevens.

Earlier this year, Say Anything's Cameron Crowe, who's almost as fond of the film as Rushmore's Wes Anderson (possibly the ultimate Ashby acolyte), finally issued the "holy grail" soundtrack through his Vinyl Films label. Click here for the details.

Unlike Crowe and Anderson, a friend of mine, who's authored books about Sergio Leone and John Carpenter, can't understand why anyone would consider Ashby a true artist. I've never attempted to argue the point, even though his opinion means a great deal to me (and I love Leone just about as much as he does). If he doesn't like Ashby's work, I'm not about to try to convince him otherwise. It's his opinion, and I respect it. I just don't agree with it.

Sure, Ashby was all over the map. Sure, he had problems with drugs, studio heads, and strong-willed actors, like Shampoo's Warren Beatty. The same could be said of many American independents who emerged in the Vietnam Era-like Jerry Schatzberg (The Panic in Needle Park, Scarecrow)--but Ashby had a longer run than most of his peers, not counting the names mentioned at the top of this post (and if Pollack was still with us, he'd be continuing to bring his authoritative presence as actor to films like Michael Clayton; click here for a tribute to one of his best roles).

Maybe it's because Ashby's films hit me at such a heady time, from grade school through high school, but they were always there, telling or showing me something new about human nature; and what they had to say wasn't always pretty (see Coming Home), but I was always moved, entertained, affected in some way. And if The Last Detail doesn't break your heart, you're made of sterner stuff than me. Plus, it features my favorite Jack Nicholson performance ever (and yes, I'm a great admirer of Chinatown, which was also penned by Robert Towne). Ashby was able to reign in Nicholson's outsized talent like few filmmakers have done before or since.


Not counting his misbegotten '80s projects, Ashby's work holds up. I suppose if you didn't like it then, you won't like it now, but in my case it isn't just nostalgia talking, because I enjoy those films as much today as I did then--if not more so.

For additional testimonies, you might want to give this feature a look. Not only does Jennifer Wachtell do an excellent job in summing up Ashby's brilliant career, but she has enlisted the following actors and directors to talk about their favorite films: Alexander Payne (The Landlord), Jason Schwartzman (Harold and Maude), Wes Anderson (The Last Detail), David O. Russell (Shampoo), and Judd Apatow (Being There).

You can also click here for my review of The Landlord (I agree with Payne 100% about this amazing debut) and here for a piece about Landlord star Diana Sands--and you thought the Ashby story was sad. (Thanks to Ratzkywatzky for the tip).

Starting on 7/1, the Northwest Film Forum will be screening all of the Ashby titles cited above, along with the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory (the only one I haven't seen). If you're like my book-writing friend, you may want to give it a pass, but if you only know Ashby from Harold and Maude, I suggest giving a few others a try. At the very least, his range may astound you.

In that sense, the all-over-the-map Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape, Schizopolis, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, etc.) is the working-class Ashby's true heir, and not the upper-crust Anderson. After all, the latter didn't direct a four-hour biopic about Che Guevara the way Mr. Soderbergh has done (resulting in a best actor win for Benicio del Toro at this year's Cannes). Somehow, I suspect Ashby would approve.

[harold and maude]

For the full schedule, please click here or call 206-329-2629. The Northwest
Film Forum is located at 1515 12th Ave. on Capitol Hill between Pike and Pine.
Images from The BBC, Breaking the Fourth Wall, JAMD, and Movie Posters.

SIFF 2008 Wrap Up: My Faves + Closing Night

I actually attended the Closing Night party this year (previous years, I've either been too sick, too tired, or just plain not here), and it was pretty cool.

Held at the gorgeous Pan-Pacific, the party offered 2 drink tix per guest (an improvement over the Opening Night party), various tasty sammiches, including veggie options, fresh fruit, and my favorite: waiters with trays of chocolates and the most perfect little lemon squares I've ever tasted. There was also a small screening room set up with popcorn bags filled with candy treats, which I thought was kind of charming - even if they were playing Out of Africa. :)

One of the things I really loved about the Closing Night party was that the "stars" wandered around amongst the regular people - they weren't sectioned off into a special Super VIP area. You could just like, go up and talk to them. Who knew? I saw both Freddy Rodriguez (and resisted the urge to yell out "Rico! How could you do that to Vanessa??"), and Bill Pullman which made me very, very. VERY happy. I didn't go up to Mr. Pullman, just gazed lovingly across the room at him - but still, it was pretty awesome. And I will continue to believe that he smiled AT me, and not just randomly in my direction.

In related news, I saw 18 films this year - which is still down from my all time high (38, I think in 2004? This is why I write these things down now), but is a decent upgrade from 2007 AND 2008. And here's how I'm breaking it down:

Films I am most likely to purchase:
American Teen
The Fall
Shall We Kiss?
Sita Sings the Blues

Films I am most likely to watch again:
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Bad Habits
Ben X
Fantastic Parasuicides
My Effortless Brilliance
Villa Jasmin
The Wrecking Crew

Films I would watch again, if they happened to be on TV:
Ask Not
Bottle Shock
Donkey Punch

Film I *might* watch again, if I wanted to gaze at Martin Henderson & Michelle Rodriquez together:
Battle in Seattle

Films I don't want EVER to watch again:
Savage Grace (sorry Julianne - I just can't do it!)

And, there you go. Next year - I hope to push it over 20. We'll see what happens!

Monday, June 16, 2008

My final SIFF 2008 film: Donkey Punch


Start with three hot chicks, add four mildly-hot guys, a boat, some alcohol and various drugs and of course you're going to end up with an orgy in the middle of the ocean that eventually ends in massive bloodshed.

From the second they explained what a "Donkey Punch" was, I thought "Oh no, they're not going to do THAT are they??" and then they did. Despite that, there were still a few surprises that broke through the pretty formulaic script, and there's a splatter-fest and some decent acting that's pushing me to rate this a bit higher than normal. Overall it had some good moments - it just took an awfully long time to get to them. Not recommended unless you're a hardcore horror fan like me, who's really, really curious. ;)

Donkey Punch screened at the 34th Annual Seattle International Film Festival this year, and was directed by Oliver Blackburn. I was unable to find a release date for Seattle (my search skills seem to have deteriorated after the Closing Night gin-fest...).

A Tasty Slice of Sunshine Noir - An Interview With Pink Cigarette Director, Thomas Kanschat

I found a pink cigarette!

I recently joined a discussion about the best music to have sex to. Half-jokingly, I recommended Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, an album that combines the talents of Dan The Automator, Kid Koala, Jennifer Charles and Mike Patton. Upon mentioning it, I got a hankering for some Mike Patton. Browsing YouTube, I stumbled across this video for the Mr. Bungle song 'Pink Cigarette'. I thought it was wickedly well-done, full of tasty details and a flavor of retro-California Noir. It wasn't until I read some of the comments that I discovered it was the work of a non-professional. It is one of the best fan videos I've ever seen. My appreciation for the piece doubled, I decided to contact and interview the filmmaker, Thomas Kanschat.

Tell me a little about your background. How did you get into film?

I just turned 20, so I've really just started, but I've been serious and focused on filmmaking since I was about 15. Even before that I would do short skits and stunts with friends on 8MM. Right now I'm attempting to finish school. Hopefully someone will hire me professionally and save me from the painful, mind-stifling prison that is college. If not, I'll probably do something like AFI.

Your IMDB entry only lists a PA credit for Death Proof. Are there other films you've worked on?

As far as professional films go, Death Proof is the only one so far and that was kind of a weird coincidence. They were filming in Santa Barbara, which is where I live, and one day I decided to sneak onto the set and ask for a job. I started the next day.

What was the genesis of the 'Pink Cigarette' video?

I was listening to the song in my car and I got this image of a demented cross-dresser, singing to a dead girl. After that I came up with a few ideas, then fleshed out the story with a friend and we started filming about two weeks later.
Despite it being a 'fan video' was Mike Patton involved at any point? Did you seek his approval beforehand or after? Have you received any feedback from him?
Mike Patton wasn't involved with the project. I went about it more like a short film. I didn't get approval from the band or label. We just went out and shot this idea. I sent a DVD copy to his record label, but I haven't heard anything from them or Patton. Hopefully he's seen it and liked it. I'm almost finished with another video to the song 'Retrovertigo', so when I complete that I plan on sending him both.
Some of the film appears to have been shot guerilla-style. I'm thinking particularly of the downtown scenes, specifically the Jamba Juice. Were those shot on the fly or did you secure those locations? BTW, where was this shot, LA, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara?
The public scenes were all shot guerilla-style. We got kicked out of a few malls and hassled a bit by security. The scene where the girl walks out of the clothing store was a particular pain in the ass. The scene in Jamba Juice was the easiest, surprisingly. We just told them we were shooting a school project and they let us shoot as much as we needed. Our age gives us a big advantage. It was all shot in Santa Barbara.
One of the reasons the film works so well is the attention to detail. Little things like, using a Volvo for the stalker's car or having the girl walk out of an ANGL. Was there a list of objectives you had to establish a 'feel'?
The only objectives were to get everything shot. I went to all the locations beforehand with my friend, who helped shoot it. We wrote out all the shots we would get and everything else just came as we went. I knew the Volvo would be a laughable touch and I didn't even notice the ANGL.
Another effective thing is the use of location. One of the advantages of being a filmmaker in California is the opportunity to shoot in an iconic setting, rich with association. Were there specific ways you sought to give your film that California look?
The California look just came naturally, I guess. We picked locations that we thought to be the most cinematic.
I'm specifically thinking of that particular brand of Sunshine Noir; films made in the Golden State by directors like Wilder, Hitchcock and Lynch. Were you seeking to reference that tradition?
Maybe subconsciously those influences showed. I'm a huge David Lynch fan and several people actually mentioned that it had a David Lynch feel to it.
Was the piece shot on video or film? If video, which camera was used and why?
It was shot on a JVC GY-HD100 and the reason being that it's my camera and it looks good enough to the point where renting one wouldn't have been necessary.
How long did the piece take to shoot?
Day wise I would say 4. Our work/school schedules conflicted with one another's. Since the budget was literally nothing, we pretty much had to adhere to the actors' schedules, since it was more of them doing me a favor.
Like a lot of people, I didn't realize it was a fan video. I think this is because of the professional quality of the piece, but also because the actor looks a little like Mike Patton. Was that intentional?
Not at all. The "actor" is just a friend of mine. He doesn't do acting of any kind. I picked him because of this particular goofy half-smile that he does, which he shows throughout the video.
Another thing that gives the piece a retro-sensibility is the Sharon Tate, deer"n-the-headlights quality of the actress. In casting that part, were you going for a specific look?
We weren't going for any specific look aside from a na/Ove teenaged/college girl. The actress is also just a friend. I picked her because she's incredibly attractive. We knew she would look great on film.
One of the locations near the end is a fancy parlor where the stalker and the girl dance. Where was that shot?
That is my friend's living room. His parents are extensive travelers, so all the bizarre and antique furnishings come from all their trips.
One of the traps you avoid is, you didn't make the film a literal adaptation of the song. You use the mood of the song without specifically referencing the lyrics. This strengthens the subjective feeling of the piece, allowing the song to become an allusory soundtrack, underpinning the images without overriding them. Was this a conscious strategy?
Yes. The song itself is about a guy who hangs himself over a girl who left him, which is the most cliched movie idea one can conjure up. The idea was solely based on the mood of the song. I'm actually just finishing up a new video for the song 'Retrovertigo'. I couldn't quite understand the meaning behind the lyrics, but the video is far from them I'm sure.
Thomas Kanschat's other projects can be seen at Untouched Productions.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Football As Never Before

ZIDANE, A 21ST CENTURY PORTRAIT / Zidane, un portrait du 21e si/(R)cle
(Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno, France/Iceland, 2006, 92 mins.)


"There has never been anything quite like Zidane."
-- International Herald Tribune

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

Should you need a non-narrative break from SIFF '08, which ends this Sunday, the Northwest Film Forum encores Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno's highly touted Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait starting tonight and running through the 15th.

When I spoke with program director Adam Sekuler about a week or so before
the original run, he enthused that the NWFF had already sold 250 advance tick-
ets. Recently, I interviewed Sekuler via email about SIFF's Alternative Cinema section, which he and co-programmer Andy Spletzer put together. Sekuler emphasized that "the traditional narrative isn't the only way to make films."
He could've easily been talking about this "21st century portrait," in which 17 cam-
eras track the every enigmatic move of former Real Madrid player (and champion headbutter) Zinedine Zidane during the course of a 2005 match against Villareal.
NWFF publicist Ryan Davis proclaimed the first stand "a great success; every single screening was packed, and it's all thanks to our supporters who helped get the word out-and showed up themselves." So, if you missed it the first time around, you've got a second chance, and this one-of-a-kind film works best on the big screen.
Though I didn't have time to write about Zidane in April, I did review the Chemik-
al Underground collection CHEM087CD+DVD, which features contributions from film composers Mogwai (like the band, Gordon hails from Glasgow; Parreno from Paris).
And since there isn't much I can say about Zidane that Visual Arts Editor
Jen Graves didn't already cover in The Stranger, you can follow this link to
read her Slog post (plus comments from a very excited peanut gallery).
For John Otway's immortal "Headbutts," please click here
Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait plays the Northwest Film Forum Fri.-Sun., 6/13-15,
at 7 and 9:15pm. Football as Never Before is the title of the rare 1971 George Best doc that originally played with Zidane (in that case, German experimental director Hellmuth Costard trained eight cameras on the infamous Man United footballer). The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. on Capitol Hill. For more information, please click here or call 206-329-2629. Images from Amazon, The Guardian, and the NWFF.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SIFF 2008: Villa Jasmin


Villa Jasmin screens at the 34th Annual Seattle International Film Festival tonight - Wednesday, June 11 at 9pm @ The Egyptian, and again on Sunday, June 15 at 9:30pm @ The Harvard Exit.
You can buy tickets online here.

On the verge of becoming a parent himself, Serge returns to his childhood home to explore his Tunisian-Jewish roots in La Goulette - a town covered in the intoxicating scent of jasmine. The film moves through the 30s and 40s, delving into the impact of the Vichy regime following the defeat of France by Germany during WWII. This scenic romance is at its best when focusing on the story of his parents - Serge and Odette. We get to see the initial courtship of the couple and how their love grows, along with some hauntingly beautiful displays of affection.

Complex and emotionally moving, Director Ferid Boughedir delivers a film with a deeply layered story of relationships that will resonate with everyone.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Sons of Mandrake

(Sean McGinly, US, 2008, 87 mins.)


Mentalism is similar to stage magic, featuring some of the same basic
tools, principles, sleights and skills in its performance.

-- Wikipedia entry

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

As Buck Howard (John Malkovich) explains in writer/director Sean McGinly's fun-
ny valentine to the talk-show mainstays of yesteryear, he's a mentalist, not a
magician. Unlike Ed Norton's showman in The Illusionist (SIFF '06), the temper-
mental artiste doesn't do Harry Houdini-style tricks. Rather, he reads minds,
finds hidden objects, and performs other feats that eschew props and come-
ly assistants (McGinly based his character on The Amazing Kreskin, below).

Now Howard attracts increasingly modest crowds. Enter law school dropout
Troy (a likably low-key Colin Hanks), who takes a job as his road manager.
Along with a sassy press agent (Emily Blunt) and two over-enthusiastic ven-
ue managers (Steve Zahn and Debra Monk), Troy works with Howard to
pull off the ultimate stunt: hypnotizing several hundred people at once.
Produced by Tom Hanks's Playtone banner, The Great Buck Howard follows the
rise, fall, and rise template of many Hanks productions (see Starter for Ten and his own That Thing You Do!), but McGinly handles a large cast with ease, the cameos-John Stewart, Conan O'Brien, George Takei, etc.-are a treat, and the unpredictab-
le Malkovich gives his most nuanced performance since, well, Being John Malkovich.
The Great Buck Howard plays the Uptown on 6/8 at 11am. An official release date has not yet been announced. The Amazing Kreskin credits Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician for inspiring his life's work. According to Wikipedia, "[A] movie based on Mandrake with actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers is set to start filming in 2008." Images from CinEmpire (-(c) Walden Media/Playtone), Broadway Theatre Blog, and Wikipedia.

Friday, June 6, 2008

SIFF 2008 Favorite: Anvil! The Story of Anvil


Anvil! The Story of Anvil screened at the 34th Seattle International Film Festival on Thursday, June 5 and plays again today - Friday, June 6, 4:30pm @ SIFF Cinema. You can buy tickets online here

Though you could bill this as "a real life Spinal Tap", it reminded me a lot of American Movie - but somehow even more genuine.

Childhood friends Steven "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner have been together for 30 years of dedication, support, and most importantly, heavy metal. In the 1980s, Canadian band Anvil was at the top of their game. Playing with other more popular acts, they set the musical standards for hardcore rockin'. Short interviews with members of Metallica, Guns-N-Roses, Motorhead and more give credit to Anvil for heavily influencing the heavy metal genre.

But twelve albums later, Anvil's still living in obscurity. Now that Lips and Robb are in their 50s, its time for something to give. After a disappointing European tour that leaves them defeated and out of what little money they had, Anvil decides to give fame one last shot by putting all they've got into a 13th album called "This is Thirteen".

It's clear that their popularity problem lies in the music more than anything. Anvil seems to have gotten stuck in a rut - each album sounding more and the more same, ensuring nothing will stand out. To top it off, finding a decent label and competent management is more than a challenge. Still, they have their fans, and their fans are more than dedicated. Which makes sense, as I have never seen a nicer, more hard-working group of guys.

Lips's enthusiasm, optimism, and drive are so infectious and endearing that you'll find yourself smiling and rooting for him to succeed. Sure, this film is full of hilarious moments (Playing a guitar in bondage gear - with a dildo?? Seriously?), but it's also inspiring and just a great story about real people trying to do what they love - without anyone having to make anything up. How often does that happen?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Don't Judge a Taco by Its Price

More of my favorite quotes from SIFF '08. (Click here for part one.)


Getting old is evil. There's absolutely nothing good about it.
-- The Edge of Heaven / Auf der anderen Seite (Fatih Akin)

A highlight of SIFF '08. Akin was a worthy selection for one of the four Emerging Masters (his Head-On made my top 20 for 2005; in retrospect, I probably should
have rated it higher). No more SIFF screenings, but I'm sure Heaven will return.

Art School Confidential's lovely and talented Sophia Myles
I like creepy men.
-- Mister Foe (David Mackenzie)
[Myles says the above to Jamie Bell's peeping tom.]
Another worthy selection for Emerging Master, though I wish SIFF had prog-
rammed Mackenzie's underrated Asylum (Patrick McGrath) rather than his ov-
errated Young Adam (Alexander Trocchi). No more SIFF screenings, but it op-
ens in August (date and venue TBA). A big believer in the literary adaptation,
Mackenzie next tackles Martin Amis's controversial 1989 novel London Fields.
I don't want to live a flat, tasteless life.
- Up the Yangtze (Yung Chang)
Hey, who does? I enjoyed this Chinese-Canadian documentary quite a
bit, and wish I had also been able to make it to former Emerging Master
Jia Zhangke's Three Gorges film, Still Life (Sanxia haoren). No more SIFF
screenings of either, but Up the Yangtze opens at the Varsity on 6/27.
One of the uses of money is that it allows us not
to live with the consequences of our mistakes.

-- Savage Grace (Tom Kalin)
Unlike Amie, I appreciated Kalin's long-awaited follow-up to Swoon-"like" may
be too strong a word-but she's hardly alone. This hyper-cynical piece of work is
an audience-divider if ever there was one, and some reviews have been down-
right vitriolic. No more SIFF screenings, but it opens on 6/20 (venue TBA).
With birth and urine, there's no procrastination.
-- The Wrecking Crew (Denny Tedesco)
I dug this labor-of-love music doc about LA session players just as much
as Amie and Gillian (and everyone else with whom I've discussed it), i.e. a
whole lot. Twelve years in the making, it's currently seeking distribution.
Don't judge a taco by its price.
-- Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney)
I wrote, "Gibney's evenhanded depiction may disappoint true believers hoping for
a glorified puff piece, but [Hunter S.] Thompson's ability to speak truth to power
with wit and passion comes through loud and clear." No more SIFF screenings, but
it opens on 7/12 (venue TBA). Meanwhile, Gonzo narrator Johnny Depp, who star-
red in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, assumes the lead in Thompson's Rum Diary.
Actor Clark Gregg's directorial debut, Choke, is also full of some hilariously (and
expectedly) profane lines, most of which probably come straight from Chuck Pal-
ahniuk's novel, but I was unable to write any of 'em down, since I keep forget-
ting to replace my defective pen. In any case, I'd recommend it, especially if
you're a Sam Rockwell or Kelly Macdonald fan (Sherrybaby's Brad William Hen-
ke is also good value as Victor's soft-hearted buddy). Plays the Egyptian on
6/5 at 9:15pm and the Uptown on 6/7 at 4pm, and opens in September.
Henke and Rockwell watch Cherry Daiquiri do her thing
Images from The Guardian and OutNow! Image Gallery.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

SIFF 2008 Favorite: Shall We Kiss?


Only the French could craft a thoroughly hilarious romantic comedy about,AePcheating. Director and writer Emmanuel Mouret walks us through a comedic story within a story about the complications of attraction, lust & love, and relationships in general.

A man and a woman meet by chance on the streets of Nantes and spend the evening talking, laughing and getting along famously. At the end of the night, the woman declines the man's offer of "a kiss without consequences" - leading into a longer story explaining why it's never possible to indulge your desires without affecting someone else.

Judith and Nicolas are the best of friends, and completely platonic. She enjoys her settled, married life and her job - he struggles to find the perfect girl, but manages to be happy anyway,AePuntil he suggests he might be lacking intimacy, and proposes that they might work out this problem together. Cue some of the most honest, heart-breaking and funny scenes I've ever seen about two people trying as hard as they can to not admit they might in love. I felt that both stories were perfectly written and casted - I loved the story of the strangers as much as I loved the main focus about Judith and Nicholas.

I highly recommend, and will definitely be buying this when it's released on DVD. As an additional note - there are two other things that I really loved about this film:

1) Most American films in this genre tend to make the current spouses or partners of the characters falling in love either totally unlikeable, or so completely wrong for the person that you don't care when the infidelity occurs (i.e. You've Got Mail). This film refused to do that, and even made the two outside characters lovable and sympathetic.

2) Hollywood has a tendency to sell us on "perfect beauty". In this film, all the women looked completely real. No layers of makeup to project a flawless face, no constant hair-styling to make us believe that even a romp in bed wouldn't disrupt our tresses, and yet the women still looked completely gorgeous. It was pretty inspiring (We can look like REAL people and still be beautiful?? Who knew?).

Shall We Kiss has already screened twice at the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival - but keep an eye out for it - I'm sure it will be picked up and released soon.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Independent Provocateurs

(Isaac Julien, 2008, UK, 76 mins.)


It feels like the correct time to be reminded of an ancient tradition that has always
served civilization well, that of the independent, truth-telling poet provocateur.

-- Tilda Swinton to The New York Times

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

Produced by friend and muse Tilda Swinton, Derek offers an impressionistic
portrait of the late British iconoclast (Caravaggio, Jubilee). Seventy-six minutes
seems short, but Julien (Looking for Langston, Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask) packs a lot of material into that time, and the pace never feels rushed.

Sean Bean in Caravaggio (1986)
A revealing, self-deprecating 1990 interview with Jarman provides most of the narrative (he died from AIDS complications four years later). Comments from
other actors and collaborators, like Ken Russell, for whom Jarman designed sets
in his early days, would've been nice, but the film presents Julien and Swinton's perspective (she wrote her commentary). Outside voices would surely provide
a fuller picture, but at the expense of the intimate mood they establish.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Derek plays the Harvard Exit on 6/5 at 7pm and 6/7 at 4:30pm. Click here for Gil-
lian's review. Zeitgeist releases a box set, Glitterbox - Derek Jarman X 4, on 6/24.
(Mark & Jay Duplass, 2008, US, 84 mins.)
In their indie sensation The Puffy Chair, Mark and Jay Duplass used the re-
trieval of a piece of furniture to explore the relationship between a close-knit
trio. Their studio follow-up represents something alternately fresh and familiar.
For four Los Angeles extras, a trip to the woods to collaborate on a screenplay be-
comes a chance to organize their personal and professional lives until the youngest (Greta Gerwig, Hannah Takes the Stairs) spots a man with a bag on his head skulking in the shadows. The concept may be slight and the execution rudimentary, but the makers of Baghead have devised a surprisingly poignant horror-comedy hybrid.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Baghead plays the Egyptian on 6/8 at 6:30pm and 6/9 at 4:30pm.
Directors in attendance. It opens at Seattle's Varsity on 8/8.
Images from Yellow Melodies, Diva TV, and indieWIRE
(Baghead still from the Sundance Film Festival).