Archive for February, 2009

ESTHER’S INHERITANCE
2008

February 28, 2009
Cinequest 19
Hungary
Hungarian
90 Minutes
Drama
Jozsef Sipos

Notes:
The photography is milky–like a 1970s porno from France or Sweden. The location is a vineyard house kept in the family and wanted by an unmarried daughter and son-in-law Lajos who everyone agrees is a scoundrel. In fact, words like “scoundrel” come up often in this film. There is a lot of angsty conversations between characters. All centered around the pure or impure heart of Lajos. Did he marry who he loved? Did our heroine, Eszter, commit the sin of not following her heart truthfully or did the late sister really steal the love letters without Eszter or Lajos’ knowledge?

Before Lajos shows up, no one has a kind word to say about him. He preys on women’s hearts and men’s wallets. He owes the whole town money, it seems. He “borrowed” one man’s watch for five years. He switched a family heirloom ring with a cheap immitation. By the time we see him, he’d better be charming. Once he arrives, we see him fall into old patterns, but he in now way deserves the kind of worship that he’s been given. No way.

Lajos will cross a room to stand by Eszter as she gazes out the window in contemplation of her life. She’ll emote and then move to a different window while Lajos tries to woo her all these years later. Beautifully shot, but doesn’t amount to much.

6.9 IMDB (69 Votes)

ESTHER’S INHERITANCE

Tags: , ,

Comments 1 Comment »

FOR MY FATHER
2008

February 28, 2009
Cinequest 19
Germany / Israel
Hebrew
98 Minutes
Drama
Dror Zahavi

Notes:
Wow. Powerful and hopeful and about Israeli-Palestinian relations. It doesn’t solve anything, but it does personalize the conflict, right down to one young man. Tarek straps on a bomb belt in the first scene. He is asked questions by his conspirators. Are you ready? Yes. Eight o’clock in the morning in a crowded market. Then, since they don’t completely trust him, they attach a cellphone so they can remotely blow him up if he loses his nerve. He is young, good-looking, well-spoken, and a soccer prospect of some note. But his father is in a jam with an extremist gang.

Meanwhile, over on the Jewish side, things aren’t so great either. A gorgeous young woman with pink hair and tattoos and a short skirt runs a shopping kiosk. Keren and Tarek strike up a tenuous friendship. She is estranged from her father–Tarek is far from his father. She is threatened by a group of ultra-traditional Jews who don’t approve of her lifestyle. Meanwhile, an old man named Katz runs the local hardware store and when Tarek’s bomb switch doesn’t work, he goes there to get a new one. In exchange, he’ll fix the leak in the roof that Katz has neglected. Tarek is invited to stay for dinner at his home. Everyone is connected. Tarek is the only Arab in the story, but he begins to see the vast cornucopia of Jews as he comes into contact with them. The sad girl, the bitter old man, the orthodox gang, the community safety inspector.

The relationship doesn’t go where you think it will. The tension of the bomb belt is constantly felt. I was most impressed and when the two young people share headphones on the beach, your heart will break into a million pieces.

7.4 IMDB (43 Votes)

FOR MY FATHER

Tags: , ,

Comments 1 Comment »

A POLICE ROMANCE
2008

February 28, 2009
Cinequest 19
France
French
95 Minutes
Stephanie Duvivier

Notes:
Female police chief of average at best looks falls for young trainee and confuses her work life with her personal life. After a particularly harrowing gunpoint situation, a messy hookup takes place. The chief is married. The recruit is highly sought after by women. Drug dealer plot isn’t really clear. Bad cops and bumbling cocky head of narcotics unit. Teenager is afraid to talk to cops. His mother is attractive lover of narcotics head. Grandma tries to get cops to stop the drug trafficking in the projects where they live. The film tries to do too many things at once.
Chief’s home life isn’t great. Her husband doesn’t find her attractive. The young recruit reignites a passion in her. The drug story is hard to follow. At first no one cares about the projects being overrun by dealers until, suddenly, they do care. They shoot a guy at the public pool and piss everyone off, but later they shoot a different guy at the public pool and everyone’s a hero. Narcotics guy is bad, then he’s good. Well-acted and nice use of Arab-French relationships. The entire film takes place during the night shift. We never see the town in the daytime.

7.4 IMDB (15 Votes)

A POLICE ROMANCE

Tags: ,

Comments No Comments »

2008

February 28, 2009
Cinequest 19
Argentina
Spanish / English
252 Minutes
Miriano Llinas

252 Minutes long. Get your head around that. What would you expect from a more-than-4 hour film in Spanish which takes place mostly in Argentina? Here’s the thing: there isn’t a single moment that drags. It’s the most amazing thing. We basically follow three different stories. The characters’ names are H, Y, Z. The fact that we don’t know their full names is just one of the charms. But what makes this film a particularly fulfilling experience is an almost perfect use of narration. And the use of time. Which is hard to explain. We’ve all seen films that use length of shots to their advantage. We’ve all been programmed to expect shots of a certain length. We notice when a filmmaker holds a shot longer than expected. Wong Kar Wai and Gus Van Sant to name a few. But director Miriano Llinas goes us one better. He holds a static shot for a long period of time, but he also films the shot from way, way back. So far away in fact that we can’t really tell who’s who. So in comes the narrator to tell us. “The farmer’s name is Rey.” [pause]. “He will hide a briefcase in a hay-bale” [pause where nothing happens and Rey doesn’t do anything]. “Here he goes.” [finally, Rey moves towards the hay bale]. This happens over and over. The narrator tells us what’s about to happen, nothing does, then the narrator says, okay now it’s going to happen. It’s a type of narration whereby the person could be sitting next to us and showing us a story that he filmed. This is hard to explain but a pleasure to experience. “The fat one will go to the truck and get a shotgun”. We wait from far away for what seems like five minutes “There he goes.” Then we see the fat guy go to the truck to get the gun. The narrator tells us what’s happening, sometimes WHILE it’s happening. This could seem simplistic, but for some reason it works pretty well. He also will explain a huge story about a minor character, with backstory, dreams, dark and happy experiences. We’ll spend ten or 15 minutes on these characters and at the end of the vignette, the narrator will say “this had nothing to do with what we’ve just seen” or, in a particularly funny scene, after a man has gone on and on about his theory of a crime, the narrator comes on to say “Every word he just said was wrong, he was correct about this crime in no way whatsoever.” So the narrator (and there are a half dozen) is there to correct wrongs, clarify plot moves, and explain what we’re seeing. The script for this film (setting aside it’s length, even) must have been much longer than usual. There is so much voiceover. Plot-wise, H is on a boat going up a river to settle another man’s bet. X witnessed a farmer’s murder, and is holding a stolen briefcase while holed up in a motel. Z is new in a management position and begins investigating the man who held his position for the previous 20 years. But those plot points in no way go far enough in explaining what’s going on, because with all the time we’re given to get to know these people, we can watch them do things slowly, in real time. A man watching the world outside his window; a man explaining the personalities of his co-workers; a man who is ridiculed by his colleagues but sets out for revenge; a woman who can easily manipulate the men in her life; the story of a gold heist gone wrong—each of these is given the time and energy they deserve. There are few loose ends.

Notes:
Perhaps the find of the festival. Nothing dull. I needed to see what happens next. Fantastic storytelling. Never dragging. Narration is perfect storytelling. “Nothing much happens”…long scene…”then it does”…long scene. Or “The fat man will go to his truck.” But on the screen nothing changes for a long 45 seconds. Then we see the man go to the truck. Narrator: “there he goes.” The scene is five minutes long with the narrator telling us what is about to happen just before it does, sometimes way before it does. The director tells us through narration and shows us through action. Hard to explain how well this works. Action sequences are done with a series of still photos. This is probably to save money. Rumors of a $50,000 budget were thrown around before the show started. It was more than four hours long. We got a break near the middle. Will the stories come together at the end? Will they go off in tangents that don’t mean anything? Which character should we most care about? This film has perhaps the best use of a narrator in movie history. It was like sitting next to someone late at night while they spin a yarn.

If you get a chance to see it, do.

8.5 IMDB (66 Votes)

HISTORIAS EXTRAORDINARIAS

Tags: , ,

Comments 3 Comments »

NIGHT TRAIN
2007

February 27, 2009
Cinequest 19
China / France
Mandarin
94 Minutes
Drama
Yi’nan Diao

Washed out colors. Darkness. Executions. Abusive relationship. I was exhausted. I dozed. I was told later it was great.

6.5 IMDB (126 votes)

NIGHT TRAIN

Tags: , ,

Comments 1 Comment »

ANOTHER MAN
2008

Cinequest 19 Screener
Switzerland
French
89 Minutes
Drama
Lionel Baier

Black and White. Stark. Covered with snow. Francois and his girlfriend, Christine have recently moved to a sort of backwards hamlet in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. He took writing classes in college and carries around a resume to show the printer of the local weekly paper. The man doesn’t need to see a resume. As long as Francois can write, he gets the job. One of his duties for the paper is to attend the weekly screenings held at the town’s only movie theater.

First up: LAST DAYS, the Gus Van Sant film based upon the final few days in Kurt Cobain’s life. Francois has no idea how to feel about the film. Does he like it or hate it or is he indifferent? He simply can’t answer. To be fair, LAST DAYS is not exactly and easy film to quantify. My first words about it in the summer of 2005: “I’ve had nearly a week to digest this. And I’m still not sure if it’s merely good or fantastic. It’s like watching a dream. People move about and do things without needing to push the plot along.

He comes across a magazine called “Travelling”, which is an incredibly high-fallutin cinema journal along the lines of FILM COMMENT or CASHIERS DU CINEMA. Rather than figure out his own thoughts on the film, he copies the published review word for word and turns it in as his own.

Luckily, not many of the townspeople are cinephiles and none of them have read “Travelling” so his secret is safe. However, the high-minded magazine doesn’t like any of the films that the single theater has chosen to show. He refuses to lower the bar on “his” reviews and is subsequently banned from the weekly screenings. So he takes it upon himself to drive into the cosmopolitan town of Lausanne where he attends press screenings with all the local critics. He begins believing that he is a great critic. There is an incredibly sexy critic named Rosa Rouge who is on to his game immediately, but would rather sleep with him and demean him than let his secret out of the bag.

Cue the Swiss-French sex scenes–in a theater, and hotel room, complete with chopsticks.

Francois at one point says, “I have no opinion on anything–I haven’t been taught to.” And that is the essence of the film. Francois is surrounded by critics with opinions and when he appears on an NPR-type radio show, the entire panel speaks except for him. Do the professionals really know more than the man who has nothing to say?

Robin Harsch (Francois) and Natacha Koutchoumov (Rosa) are a charismatic pair. She’s bratty and know-it-all. He’s a puppy dog with nary a thought in his head.

ANOTHER MAN (UN AUTRE HOMME) will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=457

IMDB

ANOTHER MAN

Tags: , ,

Comments 2 Comments »

THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE
2008

Cinequest 19 Screener
Canada
French / Inuktitut
102 Minutes
Drama
Benoit Pilon

Tiivii (you’ll recognize Natar Ungalaaq’s angular face from THE FAST RUNNER) is an Eskimo living on a rushing river in the far north of Canada with his wife and two daughters. It is 1952. A French medical ship anchors and the natives board it for a check-up. Tiivii is found to have a lung disease. His family is sent away as he is taken on a two month boat ride to Quebec City for treatment. His biggest worry is that his family won’t have enough to eat. “Who will hunt food for them?”

Upon arrival at the modern hospital, it becomes clear that no one on the staff speaks his language and he doesn’t know any French. His hair is cut and his native clothes are disposed of. The doctors can’t explain to him what his sickness is, but through some pantomime and the use of a calendar, Tiivii is told that he may need to stay in the hospital for two years. He is placed in a ward full of coughers, who look at him in wonder. The first meal he’s supposed to eat while in the hospital? Spaghetti. For a man who’s never used utensils.

This fish-out-of water story continues until, after missing his family terribly, he makes a break for it. He sleeps in barns, sings traditional songs to himself, and tries not to freeze to death. He is brought back and mounts a hunger strike. His dismal life in the hospital becomes much better when a kind nurse transfers a native orphan to his hospital. He is fluent in both French (“you know the White language? Yes, it’s easy”) and Inuktitut. The boy teaches him about modern life and he teaches the boy hunting techniques and tells him stories passed down from generation to generation.

There isn’t a whole lot more to the plot than that. There is two-way culture shock. A piece of raw salmon is almost giggled over, while a Christmas feast barely registers. Male-female social conventions are tested. And a strong bond is formed between the man and boy, who are both unsure of their place in a large, French-speaking city in Canada.

The incredible face of Ungalaaq is so expressive and honest that not much more needs to happen. When he says he misses his family, there isn’t a doubt in our minds. This film tells a unique story. There are no good or bad guys. Everyone is trying to help Tiivii. But he wants to get back to his tent and his family.

THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=511

IMDB

THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE

Tags: , , , ,

Comments 2 Comments »

2008

February 17, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
USA
English
102 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
John-Michael Thomas

A group of good-looking, but geeky, 20somethings meet in a warehouse loft to play online video games. To say they take these games seriously would be quite an understatement. Right away, the jargon is going to be tough for those of us outside the target age group. But before we throw up our hands in frustration, the screen freezes and two of the characters explain to us what the hell they’re talking about. Characters speaking directly to us is just one of the ways that CORPSE RUN tells its story.

This group is plugged in. They live in Los Angeles, they pursue their dreams in the daytime–singer, actress, investor, management trainee–but they only feel alive when they gather with each other (and beer, junk food, extremely fast computers) to defeat other teams in an online universe. They are the self-described “second best team online.”

Much like people you know in real life, everyone in the movie has an online handle. Adama, Liberty, Chucky, MichaelVox. Just kidding about that last one. When not playing videogames (reasons come up–the online universe is down for maintenance, the electricity is out, the sun is out) the group sits around and tries to explain and solve the problems of the world. Which would be grating in most movie instances, but isn’t in this film. That’s mostly due to the extremely capable cast of unknowns (at least to me). Another thing that keeps this introspection from being excruciating is that the characters themselves realize that they’re full of shit.

The musician knows he’s probably not much better than the other thousand bands in Los Angeles at any given time. The actress, while attractive, can’t perform in auditions and begins looking for another job. A young videogame magnate realizes that he’s stopped calling games art and begun calling them business. In one memorable scene, one character explains to his boss at what appears to be every single office job I’ve ever held, that what his boss thinks is 3 weeks of work, can be completed by a halfway intelligent young person in three hours. And then he goes off on a rant about “his generation” being able to multi-task and figure things out and they are better equipped and smarter and have access to more information and all the rest of the things that people born in the 1980s sometimes say in online essays (or their blogs). The result of this character’s inspiring story about how much different the new boss is from the old boss is that he is fired. He is no good at his office job. He talks an extremely good game, but can’t execute that gameplan.

The film has video game theory, style, and music throughout. When a kid is told that the Challenger disaster will be the defining moment of his generation, his voiceover counters with “Fuck the Challenger, my generation was defined by the Nintendo Entertainment System.” Scenes begin with quotes from the guys who brought us Pac Man and Donkey Kong.

Two characters have a meet-cute in a diner after one uses an obscure anime reference and the other answers back with a different, though equally obscure, anime reference. Love is born.

For computer geeks, this group seems relatively well-adjusted. They are no more messed up than any other 20s group. They get outside. They play poker, they aren’t rendered mute around attractive women. In fact, they are probably substantially better looking as a group than any real group of kids gathering in the dark to play games on a LAN. The main love interest (the anime twins) have a sweet and realistic courtship. They talk about ice cream and movies and games and their dreams. They walk on the beach and pretend they’re superheroes. Each of the couples in the film (there are two others) are sweet and awkward and realistic. The larger group has become a sort of family for all of these kids who have come to Los Angeles from other places, mostly.

There is a very well done scene which takes place in one of the canyons where a Myspace alert has brought other gamers out of their homes for a kegger. There is drinking and a bonfire and laughter. And then there is a game of capture the flag. Sega v. Ninetendo. And the Hatfields and McCoys never had so much unbridled hatred for each other. This is just another example of videogames permeating the lives of these characters. A diatribe against John Madden for somehow becoming the most powerful person in videogame history is also particularly funny.

As a filmmaker, director John-Michael Thomas (who appears in the film as anime boy / aspiring singer) tries all kinds of things to prove that we’re not watching a normal narrative. There are quotes on the screen, the characters speak directly to the camera, in several scenes a videogame arrow appears above a character denoting his importance, there is text on the screen instead of filmed footage (EXT — Characters walk into bar), and there is a Zelda-type quest that three characters take to a mysterious cave where they play in a live-action text-based videogame from back in the day.

In terms of plot from A to B to C, it’s not really there. A few of the characters change, but in most cases we don’t know what happens to them. Life goes on. Online life goes on online. Characters pontificate about their place in the world, but aside from the technology at their disposal, generations of humans have been arguing about their place in the world since we left the cave. They are no different.

If I were 15 years younger, this would probably be one of my favorite films ever. I cheered when I saw an actor playing Nolan Bushnell, I oohed at the Atari 2600, I swooned at the fake DOOM screen showing a character attempt to fix the electrical grid. But the rest of the gaming stuff was a bit over my head–which is exactly where it should be. I’m too old to be worried about my generation’s place in the world. I’m simply trying to live in it.

CORPSE RUN will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=472

IMDB

CORPSE RUN

Tags: , ,

Comments 3 Comments »

2009

February 15, 2009
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
90 Minutes — April 3, 2009
Comedy / Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller
R.W. Goodwin

She Was A Waitress. He Was A Space Alien.

Well-done, but extremely light story of a flying saucer that crash lands in a California desert town. Filmed as if it were a monster movie from the 1950s. Everyone is playing it straight. Much like FAR FROM HEAVEN looked and felt as if it could have taken place in the early 1960s, everyone in ALIEN TRESPASS is taking their job seriously. There is slang from the time period, everyone smokes, no one believes the first guy to see the crash site, a teenage couple watches the crash from inspiration point. There are some fairly well-known actors involved. Eric McCormack, Robert Patrick, etc. It is literally a one joke film, but that joke (this film was lost in the vaults of a major studio only to be unearthed in 2009) is done very well.

No one winks at the camera. Everyone is horrified at the ridiculous looking space alien.

IMDB

ALIEN TRESPASS

Tags: , , , ,

Comments No Comments »

2008

February 14, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
USA
English
86 Minutes
Comedy / Crime
Julian M. Kheel

Three devious schemes; three badly executed heists; and a pawnshop with one surprising treasure.

Every year that Cinequest comes around, I sort of have to split my personality as a viewer. Half of me remains the snobby holier-than-thou viewer, seeking out the darkest Ukrainian dramas about life’s futility and documentaries whose sole purpose is to anger or delight me enough to physically pull others into the theater to experience what I just experienced.

But the other half of me at Cinequest (this will be my 13th year), when dealing with ultra-independent American films, has come to realize what the festival is here for. Cinequest looks for fresh faces–filmmakers who will go on to greater things. We get early exposure to them and can remember future superstars when they could barely hold a camera straight or keep a narrative flowing to save their lives. There is also the whole social aspect of the festival–there are parties and the chance to see and meet semi-famous people, there are casual movie fans who are looking to impress their dates, there are dinners and cocktails before and after the screenings–and this is where I differ from the crowd.

I have rarely, if ever, enjoyed a dinner and cocktails, and then headed to a movie. Or at least any movie where any thought was involved. Spiderman? Yes. Frozen River? No. However, on those rare occasions when I venture to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night, I am typically surrounded by buzzed audience members who insist on continuing their dinner conversations in the darkened theater. I personally need to be alert, sober, and ready to be taken wherever the filmmaker wants to take me.

But Cinequest is different for me. I still don’t drink-first-view-later, but I understand that there are parties and people are spending their money in a down economy at one of the many fine San Ho restaurants. There are also first dates being planned whereby one party will prove to the other party just how much of a film buff they are by taking a chance on a movie none of their friends have heard of. There are aspiring young people filmmakers and artsy seniors who finally feel like the Camera 12 is their venue–at least for the 11 days of Cinequest. For some filmmakers with movies in the fest, this will be the furthest they get. For others, it’s merely a stepping-stone on the way to greatness. People will come into theaters late and leave early. People will get texts, answer them, and then go to the next-door screen where a friend has told them genius is unspooling. People will sit in aisles, stand against walls, laugh at jokes that they’d never laugh at in a normal multiplex, and ask questions of filmmakers which have no basis in the reality of the film they just experienced. That’s become a bit of a sport for me. Watching something I hated and then waiting for someone to attempt to impress his or her companion by asking a question about the director’s influence from Bunuel or Ozu or Kiarostami. It’s all I can do to not laugh out loud. At Cinequest 18 I sat next to a girlfriend sitting on her boyfriend’s lap for a 130 minute film. By the end, I thought she was at least half mine. Needless to say, she went home with lap number one leaving me, lap number two to enjoy the next film uncovered.

What all that means above is that I have come to realize that there are certain films which appear to be made especially for this kind of melting pot of an audience. Snobs, hipsters, old folks, wise-beyond-their-years teens, NYU grads, and people who wandered into the wrong theater by mistake make up quite a schizophrenic group of viewers.

But CAPERS should make almost all of them happy. It’s a perfect Cinequest comedy. It tries new things, it stars people who you think you’ve seen before, it looks good, but not too good, it’s plot is easy to sum up in both a Tweet and in the big program with the woman putting on (taking off) her face. There are a lot of laughs, some minor girl-on-girl action, hip hop rhymes, and stone-faced Soviets.

CAPERS has four easy-to-remember sets of characters. Connie is an over-the-top racist mafia widow who runs a pawnshop with her semi-retarded grandson. The Amateurs are over-the-top robbers who dress and act like they’re from a 70s movie, down to the Popeye Doyle hat on Danny Masterson’s head. The Moolies (I didn’t realize that it was okay to name a gang after an Italian insult directed at black people, but this film claims that it is) are over-the-top small-time crooks who dress and act like they’re filming a rap video. All the time. They wear colorful outfits, carry a huge boom box, and hold their guns sideways. Every time they enter a scene, music plays loudly and the familiar MTV font appears at the lower left of the screen. The third group of crooks are referred to as the Sputniks who act as if the cold war hasn’t ended, wear drab clothes and live in drab surroundings, and have no discernible sense of humor. Each of the gangs has had interactions with Connie, each has noticed that she keeps a safe in her shop, and each has decided that the safe must contain something incredibly valuable. Each gang plans a can’t-fail robbery of the place.

Here’s the cool and unique thing about CAPERS: whenever the Amateurs are on screen, the film uses lenses, film exposures, angles, clothing, and language as if it were filmed in 1974. This same idea was tried, less successfully, by Tarantino and Rodriguez for their Grindhouse experiment a few years back. The Amateur scenes have poor splicing, a 70s soundtrack, hairs on the camera, and long, grainy shots. It is actually quite a feat.

Whenever the Moolies are onscreen, the picture is razor-sharp, the music is loud (so loud that in one scene two characters continually yell louder than the music until one of them gets out of bed to turn it down), the clothes are loud, and the style changes to the slow-motion, fast-motion scenes we’ve come to expect from rap videos. There are slow-motion house party dances for no reason, the language is street, there is a blacked-out SUV, the beverages are all Diddy-approved.

Finally, the Sputniks are kept in black and white. Sparse language, spoken with a Rocky and Bullwinkle accent, a robot-like woman trying to be sexy, and static camera shots.

Somehow, director Julian M. Kheel keeps all the balls in the air. The Amateurs try to gather a team together (“you need a tall guy and an oriental for computer skills and karate”), the Moolies shop for weapons at a Hassidic plastic explosives store (“we’re open until sundown every day but Saturday”), and the Sputniks try to buy Uranium at their local hardware store. Each time we join one of the teams, the entire frame is changed to suit the style of the group. This works to fantastic effect, but it’s more than simply a visual gimmick. The editing changes, the pacing changes, the soundtrack changes. Eventually, all three teams will have to be in the same place at the same time–what will that look like?

Plot-wise, CAPERS is nothing to shout about. There are enough jokes to keep us laughing, none of these teams are Oceans Eleven quality brain trusts. The object of their planning doesn’t seem like much, and many of the characters are complete cartoons. But sometimes cartoons are funny and can keep your interest for 90 minutes.

CAPERS is sure to be a Cinequest hit. The theater will be full of laughter and people will talk about it when the lights come up.

And there is nary a whisper about the futility of life in the entire film.

CAPERS will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=470

IMDB

CAPERS

Tags: , , ,

Comments 2 Comments »

2008

February 11, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
USA
English
87 Minutes
Documentary
Bestor Cram

Out Of Darkness, Comes Light.

When the “Man In Black”, Johnny Cash was stationed at an Air Force Base in West Germany, he watched a movie from 1951 called “Inside The Walls Of Folsom Prison,” which so inspired him that he later wrote a song about the prison, located just outside of Sacramento, California. The song, of course, is “Folsom Prison Blues”, which was released on December 15, 1955.

The documentary JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON will make the case that Mr. Cash may have heard an album by a songwriter named Gordon Jenkins who’s song “Seven Dreams” has verses which are a bit too similar to be coincidental. Regardless of Mr. Cash’s influences, the song became a hit, Mr. Cash began performing within the walls of prisons, and it was only a matter of time before he’d perform “Folsom Prison Blues” inside the actual Folsom Prison. He first performed there in 1966, and then on January 13, 1968, he returned with his band, the Tennessee Three, his wife, June Carter, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, a photographer, and a sound recording engineer. There is no filmed footage of the event.

In 1968, Cash was just getting over his drug addiction and was looking for a comeback opportunity. He had been performing at different prisons around the country and writing songs written from an inmate’s perspective. For the Folsom show, he and his band spent the day before learning a song that one of the Folsom inmates had written called “Greystone Chapel.” It was written by a singer-songwriter named Glen Sherley, whose children appear in this film. Sherley was given a seat in the front row and was shocked when the famous singer began strumming the song that he had written.

The parallel stories of Sherley and Cash are quite compelling. One man lived a life in prison and the other got credit for singing as if he knew what it was like on the inside. Cash once told country star Merle Haggard, who spent several years in the late 50s at San Quentin, “people think I’ve lived the life that you actually have.”

The film is fascinating. We hear interviews with Cash’s bandmates, his children, former guards and two former inmates who were there that day. There is rare footage taken inside the present-day walls of Folsom. There are dozens of photographs of the event and some songs that weren’t released on the 1968 album. And somehow, though he died in 2003, we hear audio of an interview that Cash did about the concert.

The album, “At Folsom Prison” was an instant success, quickly selling half a million copies. It resurrected Cash’s career and increased his fan base. If you saw WALK THE LINE, you’ll probably remember the scenes that took place at Folsom as the most exciting of the film. I mentioned above that there is no footage of the show, so director Bestor Cram, finds images for us to see while hearing the fantastic songs.

One that sticks out for me is “25 Minutes To Go” where a condemned man headed to death row is recounting his last 25 minutes. The film uses black and white animation which depicts the words of the song. It’s an exciting song to begin with, that excitement is intensified by hearing it sung in front of inmates who whoop and cheer specific lyrics, and the animation only adds to the power as a man eats his last meal, is visited by a preacher, and begins walking up the steps of the gallows.

Then the sheriff said boy, I’m gonna watch you die;
Got 19 minutes to go;
So I laughed in his face and I spit in his eye;
Got 18 minutes to go.

The inmates go crazy as the song gets louder and louder, and faster and faster, leading to the execution of the character.

Now here comes the preacher for to save my soul;
With 13 minutes to go;
And he’s talking bout burnin but I’m so cold;
I’ve got 12 more minutes to go.

This clip has been posted on youtube, and if it’s still there, the link is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ey3-Rq9p5A

The film is full of these performances and insightful interviews. After 40 years, the impact of this live album is still being felt. When you think of other live albums and how they changed a band or singer’s career, the list really isn’t that long. U2 at Red Rocks. The Who Live At Leeds. Cheap Trick at Budokan. Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Bruce Springsteen had to compile several dates and several venues to gather the right material for their live releases.

Live At Folsom Prison can be held up among the best live albums of all time. Cash needed a hit after reaching rock bottom. The prisoners were excited that anyone, let alone country music royalty was performing for them and Cash chose songs that appealed deeply to the inmates. The film adds interviews with major players, the story of the other musician, inmate Glen Sherley, and we see how these concerts cause Cash to become an advocate for prisoner’s rights. There is footage of him testifying before Congress.

I can’t wait to see this again on a big screen with big speakers.

Johnny Cast At Folsom Prison will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=497

JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON

Tags: , ,

Comments 3 Comments »

2008

February 7, 2009
DVD
UK / USA
English / French
94 Minutes
Documentary / Crime
James Marsh

1974. 1350 Feet Up. The Artistic Crime Of The Century.

Unbelievably compelling.

The story of a Frenchman–one of those juggler, unicycle, magician, street performer types who felt it was his duty to walk between the World Trade Center towers on a tightrope. He had previously walked on the Sydney Harbor Bridge and between the two towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

But the WTC walk required incredible planning, inside men, a bow and arrow, perfect timing, a team for each building, sleeping guards, fake id badges, and a lot of luck. And that was before the guy began his walk. One might ask how a film about a tightrope walk can be made exciting. I would have asked the same thing before seeing it. To make matters (on paper) worse, there is no moving footage of the walk. There are handful of stills only. And yet.

One of the many talking heads in the film is the man himself, Philippe Petit. So we know he survives. And he doesn’t appear to be speaking from prison, so he probably didn’t get a life sentence. And yet. We are riveted as he plans, argues, draws up designs, gathers helpers, and walks between the frickin World Trade Center towers.

Mr. Petit is a show-off. He is a loudmouth, he treats women poorly, he has no respect for the law. Because he feels he has a higher calling. How a walk on a rope can be called art, I didn’t know before watching this movie. But now I do. Petit tells the story of learning of the building of the WTC and believing that it had actually been built so that he could walk between it. It was designed and built so a man from France could come over and perform in between its towers. And as goofy as that sounds, you will believe it once you see it. It is somehow art. There is a beauty and a sense of awe. He appears to be dancing–1350 feet up.

As a story, it needs no extra bells and whistles from the filmmakers. But luckily, the style of the film is also superb. There are a few re-creations, there is enough original footage of training sessions and prior stunts for us to get an idea what it might look like in NYC. There are talking heads who are still angry at each other. And there is Mr. Petit to guide us in his hyper-poetic manner.

I have this thing about jumping off high places into water. A bridge in California, a cliff in Greece, every waterfall in Hawaii. I am afraid of heights but find the challenge of overcoming that fear a pretty cool thing. I’m also one of those people who looks down from a great height and isn’t sure that his legs will walk themselves over the edge against his brain’s instructions. But I was absolutely not prepared for how scared shitless I was when I simply saw photographs of the men planning their caper. They lied their way to the top several times and pretended to take photos of workmen, but were really taking photos of anchor points and such which they’d use later to string the wire. And some of these photos, with Petit at the edge of the building, caused me to shake. I can’t explain it. Photos from the early 70s cause a physical reaction.

At one point in his walk, Petit lies down on the wire. All alone. Silently. At 1350 feet, he lies down suspended between the tallest building in the world. A plane flies overhead.

And strangely, the first word that came to my head was, “beautiful.” I may have been tearing up a bit while saying it.

Just an incredible experience.

My Number 10 for 2008.

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary of 2008.

8.9 Metacritic
8.1 IMDB

Man on Wire @ Amazon

MAN ON WIRE

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments No Comments »

2008

February 5, 2009
DVD
UK
English
118 Minutes — October 10, 2008
Comedy / Drama
Mike Leigh [Life Is Sweet; Naked; Secrets & Lies; Topsy-Turvy]

The one movie this fall that will put a smile on your face.

Poppy is always happy. Always. No matter what happens to her, no matter how those around her are feeling.

The opening scene of Happy-Go-Lucky shows Poppy riding a bike around London. She stops at a bookstore and tries to engage the silent and brooding clerk in a conversation, but he doesn’t take the bait. She continues smiling, looks at the shelves and as she’s leaving, she says “it’s okay now, I’m leaving”. She goes outside to find her bicycle stolen, but instead of swearing or crying she continues the smile and says to herself “I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.”

This is not a normal person. But you know what? I fell for her. She’s like a sociology experiment come to life. What if you met every situation with a happy go lucky attitude? How would you change those around you, how would you be treated–that is, can you will yourself to happiness? This film argues that yes, if you react to every setback and rude person and heartbreak and, once in awhile, danger, with overwhelming (some would say oppressive) positivity, your world will be a better place.

There are problems with this way of living. Because she is acting so different than other people, strangers aren’t sure how to react. I remember an experiment I did as part of a college course where I entered a crowded elevator and faced the back while people got on and off. This caused a frenzy. Just doing one thing that people don’t normally expect completely messes with their day.

Poppy’s friends are used to her and are happy most of the time, also. She teaches young children at a grammar school where her happiness works in her favor, no matter how serious her classroom management issues become. She’s happy clubbing, she’s happy trampolining and taking Flamenco classes and visiting her uptight sister, and meeting potential boyfriends. She’s even happy while taking driving lessons from a red-faced, belligerent, racist driving instructor who never cracks a smile during the whole of the film. These scenes border on terrifying. What if her smiling disposition causes real violence in a man who clearly needs help. But you sort of believe that no harm can come to her.

This is especially true when she walks home, through a scary part of town and walks towards a homeless man muttering to himself. She meets his eyes, signals that she understands him. walks with him a little ways, and then after some sort of unspoken signal between them, he leaves and she continues on her way home. On paper this sounds like an irresponsible, if not dangerous, turn of events. A young woman doesn’t head towards abandoned train tracks in the middle of the night to converse with a large homeless man. But as this is happening, we feel as if her happiness is some sort of protective shield. Who could hurt her, she’s just so happy?

Sally Hawkins pulls off this role by the sheer force of her will. She is perfect.

The problem with this film is that if you find her annoying, which is not only possible, but probable, you won’t want to spend time with her as she goes about her daily life. For some reason, I fell for her, and her story, from start to finish.

8.4 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

Happy-Go-Lucky @ Amazon

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Tags: , , , ,

Comments 1 Comment »

Written by Michael W. Cummins