April 2010 - Posts

Tribeca 2010 Awards take "Leave."

If there's one thing jurors Hope Davis, Aaron Eckhart and Cheryl Hines can agree on, it's that the German drama "When We Leave" deserved many accolades at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, where Feo Aladang's drama about one woman's daring decision to escape her husband in Turkey with their five-year-old son for her family in Berlin took home both the festival's $25,000 best narrative feature prize as well as a best actress nod for its lead Sibel Kekilli. A full list of winners can be found below:The Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature Winner: "When We Leave" (Director: Feo Aladang) Special Jury Prize: "Loose Cannons" (Director: Ferzan Ozpetek) World Documentary Competition Winner of Best Documentary Feature: "Monica & David" (Director: Alexandra Codina) Special Jury Mention: "Budrus" (Director: Julia Bacha) Individual Awards Best Actress: Sibel Kekilli as Umay in "When We Leave (Die Fremde)" Best Actor: Eric Elmosnino as Serge Gainsbourg...

Review: "The Lottery," where winning really is everything.

Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. If there's one political issue that should be simple, it's education. Everyone is for education; everyone agrees children deserve the best education possible. But trying to determine just how to give children that education is a sore subject, and that's where the problems begin. The troubling documentary "The Lottery" shows how just how many sides to a one-sided issue there can be. The titular contest in question happens every year in Harlem (and, I imagine, other areas like it around the country). Charter schools, like the one in the film named Harlem Success Academy, offer children in their area the opportunity for a better education and boast a higher literacy rate and better test scores than than the public schools in the same area. Their technique, as one person describes it, flips the conventional educational model on its head: instead of a variable...

"Anchorman 2" must not exist.

Our friends over at The Playlist are excellent aggregators, sifting through the trades we don't have patience for anymore. So when they say "Anchorman 2" is no longer happening (at least in its major studio form), we pay attention. Except I disagree with their appraisal: the fact that this might not happen anytime soon is time for gladness all over the globe. Here's the deal: "Anchorman" sucks. Damn straight David O. Russell was a producer on it and Sight & Sound was all over it; "Anchorman," viewed abstractly, is brilliant. But I can't view it abstractly. When I was in film school, "Anchorman" was a staple, right alongside Tarantino, "A Clockwork Orange" and "Snatch." The comedic concept introduced by "Anchornan" was too important to miss: if anything is said loudly and self-mockingly pompous enough, it'll be automatically hilarious. What Will Ferrell did was pretty impressive: he made talking loudly into...

Do we really want a show about Hollywood industry bloggers?

Given the fuss over the prospective HBO "Tilda" pilot unofficially based on blogger Nikki Finke, it was only inevitable that someone would step up to argue about whether it's a good idea and not. This despite the fact that, as the Hollywood Reporter's Matthew Belloni puts it, "On the accessibility scale, 'Tilda' makes 'Entourage' look like 'Hannah Montana.'" And so, we have a two part series from Robert W. Welkos at Hollywood News giving us the scoop on all the industry blogger history and hijinks. Like: one time David Poland wouldn't let Jeffrey Wells ride in the same car as him on the way to Sundance! Woah! Last year, David Carr rubbed salt into the dying media wound by reminding us that "as recently as four or five years ago, to be a member of Manhattan media, you weren't rich, but you lived as a rich person might. You went...

Review: "Lucky Life": What can you say about a friend who died?

Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. Lee Isaac Chung's first feature, the Rwanda-set "Munyurangabo," was a minor sensation back in 2007 -- at least, as much as a quiet, oblique film that scarcely saw theaters outside of the festival circuit can be. The film brilliantly captured how trauma lingers like almost imperceptible shivers, the 1994 genocide trembling just beneath the surface of a deceptively simple story of two boys traveling from the city toward an only later divulged goal. The exoticism of a Korean-American from rural Arkansas making a film about an Africa atrocity -- with a non-professional cast and a crew made up partially of locals from a filmmaking class he taught in Kigali -- certainly added an extra sheen to "Munyurangabo" that Chung's follow-up, "Lucky Life," obviously can't take advantage of. But the film's problems have nothing to do with that. While beautifully shot (if sometimes in...

A Tree of Souls grows in London.

Amid all the fuss about "Avatar" shattering Blu-ray sales records, there were a few off notes being hit. Some DVDs wouldn't play, apparently due to anti-piracy software. As one particularly irate customer wrote, "I am so pissed!!! I have spent the whole day trying to get this to play in a LC-42bd80u with no luck!!!" Indeed. Meanwhile, torrent pirates bragged that they, too, had set a record: "Avatar" is the most pirated Bluray movie ever (perhaps in part by frustrated customers). As "Ernesto" at TorrentFreak.com gloated, we've come a long way since "Ice Age 2" became the first Blu-ray to get BitTorrented: "Piracy was rampant but it has not hindered a film that has broken nearly all sales records in motion picture history. That must be somewhat reassuring for the film industry." But the most fun side event was the unveiling of a real-world Pandoran Tree of Souls in London's...

Review: "The Two Escobars," the drug kingpin and the soccer team.

Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. In 1998, Associated Press reporter Steve Wilstein noticed a bottle in Mark McGwire's locker. It was filled with androstenedione, an over-the-counter muscle enhancer that boosted the body's production of testosterone. In short, andro is a steroid, banned at that time by pro football, the NCAA, and the Olympics, though not Major League Baseball. McGwire was in the midst of a season in which he would hit more home runs than any other player in history and the interest in his chase was fueling a resurgence in the game. When Wilstein wrote about McGwire and andro, the press didn't rush to investigate McGwire's drug use; they chastised Wilstein for making it public. In other words, what McGwire was doing on the field was so good for baseball that nobody wanted to know what McGwire was doing off of it to make it possible. Give...

Lindsay Lohan and the difference between a movie and music star flame-out.

Like 3D and the death of criticism, Lindsay Lohan is the column-filling gift that keeps on giving. Yesterday saw two separate articles on La Lohan from The Wrap, and today the AV Club's Nathan Rabin examines late-period flops "I Know Who Killed Me" (which is kind of awesome -- seriously) and "Chapter 27."That's a lot of attention for an actress who hasn't had a theatrical release in three years. Much of this coverage is, predictably, a little ghoulish, though what makes it worse is the quasi-paternalistic, first-person direct form of "advice" a few of these columns pride themselves on. "it ist [sic] too late for her to get it together?" asks the sub-hed on the first Wrap column, as if Lohan were the recalcitrant type who'd once turned in her homework on time and was now smoking pot under the bleachers and might not make it into college. It's reminiscent...

Review: "Freetime Machos," a Finnish rugby bromance.

Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. A small, agreeable documentary with an awkwardly not-quite-in-English title, "Freetime Machos" tries to position itself as a sort of Finnish nonfiction Apatow-style bromance about guys whose slightly squishy outsides hide very squishy hearts. It's not terribly successful on that front, but I'm not sure it needs to be. Director Mika Ronkainen starts his film off with a voiceover explaining that in the northern town of Oulu, men are supposed to be men -- stoic, stoic men, who don't like to let on that they feel pain of either the physical or emotional variety. For the group of guys he follows, playing amateur rugby is an escape -- physically, but also mentally, as companionship, social time at the bar or hanging out in the sauna with a few beers seems to be just as important to everyone as actually playing. The team happens to...

Review: "brilliantlove," British hipsters in love and squalor.

Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. "brilliantlove," directed by Ashley Horner, is a British hipster wish-fulfillment fantasy pretending to be a romance. Its lovers, Manchester (Liam Browne) and Noon (Nancy Trotter Landry), live in shabby paradise in a single-car garage on a hill. They have no visible means of supporting themselves, but they do have hobbies. Noon's is taxidermy -- she keeps dead birds she finds in the freezer until she has time to work on them. And Manchester's is photography -- photography of Noon, naked, or asleep, or while they're having sex (they have a lot of sex). One day, a vaguely sinister man named Franny (Michael Hodgson) finds the artless bedroom shots Manchester left behind in the pub after a bender of a night, and devotes a lot of energy to seeking Manchester out and offering him money for the photos -- he thinks he can make...

Walter Murch, the king of talking about editing.

For years now, Walter Murch has been revered as the final word in what it means to understand editing, to the point where one of my freshman year film school classes involved listened to Murch's entire commentary track for "THX 1138" without even watching the movie first. As impressive as Murch's credits are ("Apocalypse Now," "The English Patient," and on), it's his ability to communicate in metaphors that makes him the go-to editor for speaking about the craft. More so than other technical jobs on a film, it's editing that can seem the least straightforward and more wrapped up in alchemy. Murch has been speaking in eloquent metaphors for years now. In a book-long series of conversations with "English Patient" author Michael Ondaatje, he speculated about how the early days of editing were dominated by women, in a craft seen as "something like sewing. You knitted the the pieces of...

Hugh Hefner, film scholar.

The announcement that Hugh M. Hefner has ponied up $900,000 to help save the Hollywood sign from destruction came as no surprise if you're familiar with Hefner's long-standing infatuation with all things old Hollywood. As a direct patron of the cinematic arts, Hefner's record is sporadically impressive. Playboy Productions did give the world Roman Polanski's impressively violent "Macbeth" and Peter Bogdanovich's high-water mark "Saint Jack," two seriously worthwhile movies. If Dino de Laurentiis is an unlikely patron of the arts for letting David Lynch have complete control on "Blue Velvet," we must give Hef credit where credit's due. Elsewhere, Hefner's dream of conveying the Playboy philosophy of thoughtful hedonism and erudition via non-softcore-porn movies never came to fruition. He's had two perfectly dreadful cameos in the last few years as himself: in "The House Bunny," where he unconvincingly falls for Anna Faris' charms, and in "Miss March," where he delivers...

Review: "Meet Monica Velour," requiem for a porn star.

Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. "It's not a National Lampoon's movie and it's not a road movie," writer/director Keith Bearden said after the second screening of his comedy "Meet Monica Velour," a necessity of sorts since the easiest description of its logline might have audiences running in the other direction. As noted by Cinematical's Scott Weinberg, the synopsis of a geek seeking out a retired porn star he worships after his high school graduation sounds like formulaic crap easily given to cliché. But while no one will mistake "Monica Velour" for high art, it's a sly, unforced coming-of-age story that may be slightly predictable, but is always engaging. You wouldn't think this immediately when introduced to Tobe (Dustin Ingram), a love child of Napoleon Dynamite and Where's Waldo with an offputtingly toothy grin and a mop of blondish curls. He has very particular tastes, as we learn when...

Review: "The Last Play at Shea," Billy Joel and the Mets.

Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. Billy Joel was the perfect choice to play the last rock concert at Shea Stadium because, as the entertaining though slight documentary "The Last Play at Shea" makes clear, Billy Joel is essentially the New York Mets of rock stars. Joel and the Mets, Shea's primary tenants for 44 years, have a remarkable amount in common and eerily parallel timelines: Joel's father, for example, left his family the same month the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn for Los Angeles, paving the way for the creation of the Mets. The film's explicit comparisons are mostly temporal, but careful viewers of this slick doc will sense a deeper kinship between the two: memorable and at times miraculous success, debilitating and at times miraculous failures, bad luck, worse decisions and some serious inferiority complexes. The Mets, who live in the shadow of their crosstown rivals the Yankees, have...

At the movies with David Foster Wallace.

Anyone interested in the late David Foster Wallace should think about reading =books&qid=1272347495&sr=1-1">"Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself," David Lipsky's recently published "road trip with David Foster Wallace." It's essentially an unedited transcript of five pages' worth of raw interview material for a never-completed Rolling Stone profile, it's also the kind of thing you generally need to visit university archives to access. As you might expect from the guy who saturated "Infinite Jest" with cinematic references, not to mention the one responsible for an excellent essay about David Lynch, there's a lot of movie talk in the book, mostly centered around the Hollywood products he was most invested in. It's 1996, so Lipsky and Wallace go to "Broken Arrow." Wallace casually says things like "You ever see 'Johnny Mnemonic'?" and suggests Pauline Kael would be a "a good model" for passionate criticism. He doesn't like Woody Allen ("I...
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