Archive for July, 2010

2008

July 18, 2010
Camera Cinema Club
Ireland / Sweden
English
72 Minutes
Drama
Lance Daly

Kylie = Kelly O’Neill
Dylan = Shane Curry

Kylie’s goldfish has died. We see the color drain out of it until it appears, in closeup, a decaying gray. Kylie is an eleven-year-old girl, with an abusive older sister, an angry mother, and a despicable uncle, among other members of her family. Next door to her lives Dylan, a peer who spends his time avoiding his violent father, a man who in the opening scene appears to be losing a fight with his toaster. Dylan plays his videogames, sometimes hidden in cupboards, while his father drinks and yells at him until his mother comes home from work at which point his parents target each other instead.

Dylan is teased by some boys on those asinine tiny motorcycles while Kylie is taunted by older, experienced girls in the neighborhood (pushing a baby carriage), who wonder how far she’s gone sexually with Dylan. These two kids appear destined to spend their winter holiday avoiding their families and wandering the streets of their dismal Irish town.

Returning from a walk, Kylie’s face reflects horror as she sees a motorcycle parked in her driveway–”look who’s come to see you,” her mother says. It’s her Uncle and a series of heavy-handed filmmaking tricks including an ominous shadow, a shot of his boots while she hides under the bed, and her reaction to “give us a kiss” tell us all we need to know about what kind of man he is.

Dylan puts in headphones after his mother comes home to silence the her screaming at his father. The fight escalates and Dylan finds himself in between his parents as they trade punches. He throws his beloved Nintendo at dad, breaking it on his forehead. And then he runs upstairs for his life.

Kylie has been listening in to the argument and because she’s the coolest next door neighbor girl ever, finds a ladder and puts it up to the bathroom window where Dylan has hidden himself. A narrow escape, followed by some property damage, and the two kids are running off vowing to never return to their dismal and depressing home lives.

Though the neighborhood rumor tells the tale of a father murdering a son, Dylan is sure that his runaway older brother is living in Dublin and they set out to find him. They are 11-years-old. They have about $100, which Kylie found in a sibling’s shoe.

Getting away from their homes, even just a few miles, seems to lighten their spirits, the soundtrack, and the audience’s mood. It isn’t for another 20 minutes or so that we realize that color has been added to the film in slow, subtle ways. Like the further they get away from their side-by-side houses, the brighter the world seems. Your subconscious will feel something changing before your eyes notice something changing.

They hitch a ride with a reluctant waterway captain who in the space of an afternoon, provides more parental warmth than either child has probably experienced in their whole lives. This is also a part of Ireland that we’ve never seen. The captain is moving a dredge from their small town waterway to the mouth of a river in Dublin. Along the way, Dylan will learn about and hear his first Bob Dylan song performed with a strong accent by the boat captain. They will learn how to tie knots and how to work the boat locks and the proper impression of a monkey. It is magical. They might not have a plan once they reach their destination, but getting there is nothing short of soul-cleansing. Fictional characters have been taking trips down rivers by boat for centuries. It always seems to do the trick.

The almost unbelievably-kind boat captain gives Dylan his official jacket and off the two kids go to find his older brother on the bright, but harsh streets of Dublin.

But first, they have money and time on their hands. A haircut, sweatshirt, and his and her heelies are important enough to spend money on. Scenes of the two (who quite frankly are more accomplished at this skill than any real-life kids I’ve seen) rolling quickly and gracefully through a crowded shopping mall are beautiful and fun. They are just kids after all. And being kids, they spend their last money on gummy snakes, neglecting to plan any future meals.

There are long passages of the film without dialogue, using hand-held cameras and fantastic music which make us forget the brutality the kids have left behind, if only for a few minutes. When one of them gets down, the other picks them back up. When Dylan thinks their search is hopeless, Kylie continues knocking on doors. When Kylie has a very serious scare, it’s Dylan who rises up to save her.

Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry are so fantastic in these roles that it’s almost scary. O’Neill plays Kylie as a brave, wise, talkative, fiercely loyal best pal to Dylan. It is impossible not to fall in love with her. Every boy wants someone like Kylie watching over them. Her home life may be the only one worse than Dylan’s and she vows much more strongly than he that she’ll never return. Curry plays Dylan as an asthmatic boy who turns his pain inward, having no friends but Kylie, and no enjoyment besides his videogame. He spends a great deal of time pouting and it usually takes the energy and work of Kylie to get him to break out of his funk. These two actors are crazy talented for being so young.

The story on paper seems incredibly depressing. Abused, poor kids run away and become targets for all manner of adult malfeasance in the big city of Dublin as they try to find a ne’r do well older sibling without money or a roof over their heads. But somehow, kids make it through hardships of all kinds.

There are plot issues I had trouble with. Let’s just say that the boy’s skill using his new shoes ends up probably saving Kylie’s life. And most adults they come into contact with are more than nice to the pair, they all seem to be able to impart a bit of wisdom, perhaps some food, and maybe a few coins and a song. Bob Dylan even gives them a beer to share as he waits to return to a stage for an encore.

Besides the manipulation of color based on the characters’ mood, we also got swirling camera work when the kids were playing, and scary dark alleys when the kids weren’t playing. The music was uniformly great and included a few Bob Dylan songs performed by both actors and the man himself. Also, for the first time that I can remember, there were subtitles, but only intermittently. When they stopped about 10 minutes in, I thought it was another film maker manipulation whereby he thought that we were comfortable enough and could follow along from that point forwards. But then they returned in most cases, and I began wondering if he only subtitled the most important dialogue. By the end I came to no great understanding of why they were sometimes there and other times they weren’t. Luckily, the actors’ faces really told us everything we needed to know.

The feeling of the film, the child-like wonder that is still evident, regardless of past experiences–the optimism and energy of youth, and the idea that with one loyal friend, the world can be taken conquered. All of this was in the faces of the two young leads. The conversations were realistic and age-appropriate. The ending left some questions unanswered. There was hope hidden within all the bad stuff we see.

Even the final scene which included a clenched fist that turned into a hug, a shared smile, and a blown kiss, were perfectly paced.

Go see it.

6.9 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

KISSES

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2009

July 18, 2010
Showtime
USA
English
88 Minutes
Comedy / Crime / Drama / Sport
Robert D. Siegel [wrote THE WRESTLER]

Paul Aufiero = Patton Oswalt

Oswalt is perfectly cast as a die-hard New York Football Giants fan who spends his working hours in a small box in a parking garage listening to sports radio and writing the script for one of his nightly calls. He is one of those movie-level losers, like MARTY, who lives at home with his mother, has filthy friends, and posters of his sports heroes on his walls. He also sleeps in sheets that I myself had back when I was twelve. The ones with all the NFL teams on them.

His sister is married to a businessman and his brother is a personal injury lawyer as seen on TV. They all wonder what he’s doing with his life. But Paul seems to be content simply following the Giants, talking about the Giants, calling in to sports shows as a representative of the Giants, and wearing only clothes that come in Giants colors. On homegame Sundays, he and his buddy, Sal, played by indie-everywhere Kevin Corrigan, put on jerseys and facepaint and drive from their homes on Staten Island, down 95 to the Meadowlands, where they cheer with the other fans, walk around throwing the football, but strangely, don’t seem to eat or drink anything. Just when I was wondering how a guy who works in a parking garage could pay the astronomical NFL ticket prices, we cut to a shot of the two men, in the parking lot in camping chairs, watching a TV which is hot-wired onto their car battery while the real game goes on 100 yards away. This is the kind of humor the film has to offer. It’s very dark, it’s borderline mentally ill, and just this side of unbelievable.

The scripts that Paul writes for his call-ins (which he claims he says off the cuff) are full of grammar and spelling errors. And he works on them for hours. His calls end up lasting a minute or two and typically end with Scott Farrell saying “always great to hear from Paul in Staten Island.” Unfortunately, his mother often pounds on the wall imploring him to keep it down.

Paul’s single greatest hero (and here’s where we as viewers have to substitute our own–I’ll use Bono) is a killer linebacker named Quantrell Bishop. He has posters of the guy and he always wears his number 54 Bishop jersey to the parking lot. One day, the two losers are out for pizza when they spy Bishop and his posse getting gas for his Escalade. “What are they doing in Staten Island?” they ask each other before giving chase in a run-down Corolla. They stop off at a row house for something that seems vaguely criminal and then head into Manhattan. The film really gets going when we see the two men, who are complete products of their Staten Island surroundings, get nervously excited as they cross the bridge into the bustle and parking difficulties of Manhattan. Never mind the high prices. They follow Bishop into a strip club, where they are shocked to drop $29 within minutes of entering and they grab two seats facing the VIP lounge and the Bishop entourage.

In real life, this must happen all the time. I once bumped into (literally–it was crowded) Derek Jeter and his entourage at the Palms in Las Vegas (which makes me sound much cooler than I actually am.) Everyone who’s seen a celebrity in public knows that they just seem to shine brighter than those around them. I did get to glance into the famous blue eyes of Jeter, but what I also noticed was just how the energy of him being there, smiling, added a kind of buzz to the surroundings. People see celebrities in airports and hotels and concerts and they do appear to be different than we mere mortals.

But here’s the question the film asks: what if your hero turned out to be not only rude, but to beat the shit out of you until you went into a coma? I have been in the presence of celebrity probably 50 times. The soundboard at U2 shows, their hotels, in airports, at film festivals. And I’m always asked why I didn’t get an autograph. My answer is that I never want to be disappointed. And how a signature and a two-second human interaction means that I’ve “met” Bono or Stewart Copeland or Colin Farrell, I’ll never know. Gene Siskel used to say, when asked about interviewing actors and then giving them bad film reviews, something like, they’ll never be your friends–you won’t be going out for coffee with them. Plus I know they all have as many problems and they are as assholish and as messed up as the rest of us.

I say all this because in the film, the pair try to send a drink over to Bishop, who refuses a screwdriver (the only mixed drink they’ve ever heard of), so they decide to walk over anyway. They are at first ignored, then ridiculed (“look Bishop, you do got fans, ha ha ha ha.) This scene is unbearable to take. We know that Paul the schlub meeting Bishop the multi-millionaire cannot go well. But the scene takes a terrible turn when it’s discovered how long the two had been following him and Paul is punched and kicked into unconsciousness.

This alone makes a good movie, but what makes it even a bit better, and where the connections to my choice of Bono no longer work, is that the more trouble Bishop gets into, the less successful the New York Giants are on the football field. If I were to go up to Bono and say, please sign my copy of OCTOBER, and he beats me unconscious, they need to postpone some concerts. After Bishop stomps Paul, he is suspended and the Giants playoff hopes dim, the longer the investigation goes on. This part I loved. Paul is such a Big Fan, that he may decide to put his own health and a well-deserved payday aside so that he can continue to follow his beloved Giants (on TV at least) as they make a run for the Superbowl. If his name gets out, will his fellow fans hate him? Was he too much of a pest and somehow had the beating coming?

Oswalt is absolutely perfect. I’ve always known there was an actor hiding inside his schlubby comedian body. (He does a bit on a 1980s video from Night Ranger that is making me laugh right now as I remember it.) He almost dies, yet he wants his Giants to win. He has made the success of the Giants his reason for living, and without them, his family would be even more right about him. No girls, no adequate job, no life. And if it turns out that his lawsuit is the reason for the Giants demise, could he live with himself?

Added to the picture is another caller to the sports program, a guy named Philadelphia Phil, who revels in any Giants defeat and who is the arch-enemy (radio-version) of Paul from Staten Island.

Sidenote: I was at a San Francisco Giants game this year, and there was a presentation about cancer research, I think, and the spokesman was Tommy Lasorda. Now, Tommy Lasorda may be the single most hated person in San Francisco Giants history. Wanna get beat up? Wear Dodger Blue to Pac Bell Park. Or Chiefs Red to the Black Hole in Oakland. Maize and Blue in Columbus? You get the idea. However, Lasorda was years removed from being a Dodger. He was raising money for medical research. And you should have heard the boos. Oh my. Whenever the jumbotron showed him, the profanities began (from the normally white-wine sipping Giants fans). Sidenote over.

I bring it up because the hatred between the Giants and Eagles was shown pretty perfectly in BIG FAN. The two fans of different teams at first simply spar on the radio show, but over time, they get more angry and mean and how long can Paul keep the truth of his beating from the AM radio audience.

The specificity of Staten Island and the portrayal of a unique type of obsessive, the American football fan, make BIG FAN a fabulous, though not exactly fun, film.

What if your hero (Steve Jobs, Obama, Thom Yorke, Lebron) ignored you–made fun of you–almost killed you?

7.0 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

Big Fan @ Amazon

BIG FAN

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Maybe.

This morning, I went to my favorite theater, The Camera Seven Pruneyard in beautiful Campbell, California, to “test-drive” one of the 22 new theater seats they’ve just installed there. The Camera Seven is part of the Camera Cinemas group, a South Bay institution, which opened its first theater, the now-closed Camera One, in 1975. The company has a total of 24 screens in four buildings. They continue to bring Indie film to the Silicon Valley when no one else will.

All theaters, and the Camera chain is no exception, are being faced with lower attendance and more people enjoying films at home as prices on flat-panel TVs have dropped and a service like Netflix streaming puts thousands of films at your fingertips. Movie theaters are finding ways to fight back, to get all of us lazy people to leave the house and enjoy movies where they should be experienced–in a theater.

Though the chain is regional and relatively small when compared to the AMCs and Cinemarks and Regals, they have been at the forefront of several trends.

–Thanks in large part to their support, The Cinequest San Jose Film Festival completed its 20th year this past Spring. Most of the screenings have taken place at a Camera theater.

–For 14 years now, me and 400 of my closest friends have been meeting 10 times a year on Sunday mornings to enjoy a secret film, some breakfast, and then a chat with the filmmakers. The Camera Cinema Club continues to be a highlight of my movie-going life.

–They have four screens that are using Sony 4K Digital Projection, which is 4 times the pixels of 2K projection, whatever that means. All I know is that it’s sharp and bright and doesn’t “feel” digital. Like most movie snobs, I was against the whole idea of digital, but it sure looks good in those theaters.

–And beginning this Friday July 16th, with the release of Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION, another technical milestone will be met at the neighborhood Camera Seven. D-Box Motion Seating.

Here’s what I can tell you from the fifteen minute test drive that I had this morning:

* There are 22 extra-wide seats occupying the two best rows in Theater One. These eleven seats per row take the place of 15 normal sized seats. They are cushy and red and have a ridiculously heavy-duty cup holder on the left hand side. The right hand is used to adjust the “severity” of the motion.
* Each seat is numbered so that when you buy a ticket at the box office, the staff can direct you to your exact seat, which will then be activated. No ticket sold for that seat, no activation.
* Each seat has a cool light on it that reminds me of “terminator” or “battlestar galactica” or what other sci-fi reference you want to use. It “flows” up and down, up and down, until someone sits in the seat. This is cool if you’ve arrived and the theater has already been darkened, but as an OCD moviegoer, I noticed the moving lights on the seat next to mine during the demonstration.
* The seats don’t lean back like the ones we’ve all become used to. They are really wide and feel sturdy. I’m not sure I’d sit in one without the motion effects because it’s a bit stiff and my legs dangled a little bit.
* If you sat in the third row, you’d probably feel completely left out because the people in front of you will be oohing and aahing and smiling as they move around and you’d be sitting there, as always, not moving. This will probably provide great upsell. I can imagine someone sitting in a normal seat but hearing the fun the other people are having during a trailer and running off to the box office to upgrade.

Here’s what I saw today:

1) A quick instructional/commercial clip on what’s going to happen. That clip can be seen here. When the animated chair on the screen went left, we went left; when the chair had a wave splash water on the seatback, I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel a wave “splash” my seatback.
2) A trailer for THE EXPENDABLES. There were gunshots and motorcycles and bombs going off. I was trying to calibrate my chair so I didn’t look up very often, but when I did, here’s what I noticed. When Mickey Rourke was on a motorcycle, my butt was rumbling and when that motorcycle turned, so did I. Less successful was when a guy got shot or kicked or something and fell over from left to right, my seat sort of tipped me to the right. When the soundtrack bumped, so did my seat. Think TERMINATOR 2 (dum-dum dum dum-dum [pause] dum-dum dum dum-dum) your seat will bounce in time. Which is pretty cool.
3) A trailer for TRON: LEGACY, which in my opinion used the D-Box technology a bit better. There was a helicopter shot of the top of a building (think Batman looking over Gotham) and my seat “flew” and banked like the camera did. That was my favorite effect of the day, the flying. There was more action and the light-cycles and more soundtrack thwacking. And on a side note, the Tron logo looked a crisp as anything I’ve ever seen in a theater, thanks to the 4K projectors mentioned above. It was during this clip that I noticed I was smiling.
4) Then we saw the pre-credit sequence from FAST & FURIOUS (the 4th one, I think). The part where they high-jack a gas truck (which somehow is pulling FIVE trailers up and over some Dominican Republic mountains.) When Vin Diesel spun his car around, my seat seemed to spin; when Michelle Rodriguez jumped out of the car onto the gas trailer, my chair sort of “jumped”. The footage was loud and crazy and as I was being thrown this way and that way, I glanced over to my right and watched another viewer as her head moved around. I then turned my seat down to 2. I also tried 1, but wanted more. The sequence ends with a flaming tanker rolling down a hill and Diesel timing his drag race just perfectly so that the truck bounces over his car. Then stuff blows up. Loudly.

None of the three clips I saw were from films I’d probably see in a theater. Especially Fast & Furious. But the day wasn’t about artistic creativity. It was about immersion. The first film which will utilize this technology is INCEPTION which has been my most looked-forward-to film of the summer for quite some time.

I have some questions about the technology. There’s been a great deal of debate lately over the merits of 3D. Are studios simply releasing things in 3D to pick up the $3 surcharge or are they starting from scratch to make an immersive experience? Some films are turned into 3D after filming if finished (Alice In Wonderland) and some are made 3D from scratch (Avatar, Toy Story 3, Up). Toy Story 3 is a good example of a film whose 3D didn’t call attention to itself. It was just there. It added a little something to the film experience. Nothing shot out at the audience or caused them to duck or showed off the technology. If this D-Box technology can find a way to subtly add motion to already good films, I’ll be sold. After the presentation had been finished for 15 minutes, my arms were still tingling from the Fast & Furious shaking. But then again, I had it on level 3 for most of the clip.

This D-Box experience will set you back $8 on top of the price of admission. So a 3D, Saturday evening show, could run you $20 a head. This isn’t for everyone, and if a film needs a seat to swing around to and fro to keep an audience’s interest, then maybe the plot isn’t up to snuff to begin with. How many times have we seen couples on dates eating hot dogs and nachos and sodas and candy and popcorn. All of which ends up being much more expensive than $8. A guy on a date, who is trying to impress his lady friend can easily one-up his peers by springing for the extra experience of “feeling” INCEPTION, while his friends merely “watch” INCEPTION. The experience is not unlike those amusement park rides where you swoop around left and right and get motion sick even though you’re not really moving anywhere. $8 is a small price to pay for that kind of fun.

Will the technology take off? I’m not sure. This is not something that can be inexpensively done at home, though the company does sell home theater seats that also move. Would a three hour film like AVATAR lead to “D-Box fatigue” or some kind of motion sickness. We’ll have to wait for reports to trickle in.

I think it’s a great idea to have INCEPTION be the first film to utilize this technology. By all accounts, the film is for thinking people, and the clips show a world where gravity is not absolute. I anticipate that once people find out about these seats, all 22 of them will be occupied for at least the first few weeks.

I want to thank Camera 7 General Manager Alejandro Adams, and Camera Cinemas District Manager Dominic Espinosa for letting me sample the newest technology that movie-going has to offer. And I got a bonus tour of the projection booth too!

You can follow Camera 7 on Twitter to hear how the technology is being received.

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Written by Michael W. Cummins