Thursday, April 24, 2008

It's all wrong, but it's alright...

So I've been feeling ridiculously shitty for the past two days and the song in this video pretty much encompasses how I feel. But the way these two kids--these two eight-year-olds--play and sing it put a giant smile on my face. At least for five minutes I feel a little better.

Hey, these guys should find that teacher from the Langley Schools Project!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

American Idol

Roger Ebert has officially entered the world of the blogs. In recent years, he has completely revamped his website (with the help of his editor Jim Emerson, whose own blog is a favorite of mine) and archived the bulk of his television reviews with Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper, so this seemed like the next logical step.

Of all the people I look up to--Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, Francois Truffaut, etc.--it was maybe Mr. Ebert, through his TV show and then my subsequent discovery of archived print reviews on the Chicago Sun Times website, that had the most profound impact on my love for film. Not that I always agree with him (or with Emerson, or A.O. Scott, or Nathan Lee, or Wesley Morris). In fact, more recently, the more I've discovered my own voice and my own approach to thinking critically about film, the more I find my way away from all of these great writers. And in some ways that's the point. As the great films also do, Mr. Ebert's reviews do have a personal point-of-view and possess something of great worth to say, but also challenge the reader (or viewer in the case of film) to engage their own mind and not just sit there passively. I've learned more in reading his weekly print reviews than I have in any film class.

The world of film-blog criticism is inundated with the uninformed and the ill-conceived, the prosaic and uneducated. Maybe I'm one of those, who knows? I hope not, but I will continue to toil underneath the huge shadow Mr. Ebert's work casts and continues to cast. What I do know is that online film journalism just got a whole lot better.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Belatedly, FFF Day 9 & 10

I ended this year's Florida Film Festival on a chilly, rainy night by screening Snow Angels by director David Gordon Green, whose debut feature George Washington I feel is one of the best American independent movies of the past decade.

From A.O. Scott's review in the New York Times:
With both his subsequent films, "All the Real Girls" and "Undertow," Mr. Green has retained just enough of that idiosyncrasy to keep the promise of "George Washington" alive in the minds of his critical admirers. But these movies have also felt uneasily caught between his poetic nonconforming impulses and the requirements of sustaining a career as a midlevel, specialty-division auteur. Each one is less special than the one before.
To add, I think Green's movies have, at least overtly, become increasingly more structured--their narratives more focused on its trajectory towards a specific conclusion, rather than languishing in the nuance of character and place.

But to say that is not to diminish the film's strengths, of which there are many. One of the parallel stories involves Arthur (Michael Angarano) and Lila (Olivia Thirlby, Ellen Page's best friend in Juno), two high school teens navigating that most tenuous of young adult terrain: having a crush on a classmate. Cute without being cutesy, this budding relationship is the real soul of the film that partially takes a back seat to the eventual tragedy of the film, heavily foreshadowed in the film's opening scene. The problem with this tragic part of the storyline (of which I'll reveal nothing else) is that it seems coolly distant without seemingly trying to be. It lacks the fully lived-in feeling of the young romance and thus feels emotionally stunted, whereas the other is emotionally satisfying.

The night before I screened Young @ Heart, the British documentary about a choir of senior citizens who tour performing classic and newer rock and pop songs. There seems to have been a spate of movies recently that deal with the pairing of rock 'n' roll with unconventional performers--Richard Linklater's School of Rock, and the documentaries Rock School and Girls Rock! (the latter of which played at FFF this year, but unseen by me). Either one of these films would make a good double-feature with Young @ Heart, but watching the film, I kept on thinking about a short TV documentary on VH1 I saw years ago on an album called Innocence & Despair by The Langley Schools Music Project.

A recording on the completely other end of the spectrum than the seniors of Young @ Heart, Innocence & Despair is a collection of songs by a chorus of elementary school children from Langley, British Columbia during the late 70s. Ranging in material from David Bowie to The Beach Boys to ABBA, these songs are sparingly orchestrated and incredibly lo-fi in quality. The wonder of it all is how moving these songs can be even when their sung by kids who don't even really understand what they're singing about. I mean, how can a 9-year-old kid fathom the longing of a song like the Eagles' "Desperado" or the loneliness of The Beach Boys' "In My Room"? Well, maybe kids get a lot more than we think they do.

From the juveniles to the seniors and all other kids from 1 to 92, The Langley Schools album and Young @ Heart capture one of the great things about rock 'n' roll, which is its populism and egalitarianism. To put it more succinctly, as Hans Fenger, the music teacher who started the whole Langley project, said in the VH1 doc:
There's probably no better way to have people understand each other than to have them make music together. As cliché as it is to say that [music] is a universal language, it's in fact the truth.
All-in-all, this year's Florida Film Festival, despite some mishaps and stumbles, was as fun as it was exhausting. In order, my three favorite movies at the fest were Disfigured, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, and August Evening. Other highlights included my mom meeting and getting an autograph from A Clockwork Orange actor Malcolm McDowell. I'm not entirely sure, but as my mom tells it, I think he might've been hitting on her! Another slightly surreal moment occurred during the Midnight Shorts program. For those who don't know, all of the midnight showings tend to skew--how shall I say it--to the more depraved, the slightly dysfunctional. The filmmakers of one of the shorts entitled Dirty Words: The Letter C were in attendance and were passing out raffle tickets to win a vibrator and throwing out tiny bottles of lube to the entire audience.

And I find it incredibly inappropriate to tell you whether or not I've used my bottle so I'd appreciate if you'd stop asking me.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Take me to the magic of the moment... FFF: Day 7 & 8

A quiet two days had me attending only three screenings, but they were among the three best of the week so far.

Late Thursday night I watched the very funny romantic comedy In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Wonderfully shot in black and white, the film is like a more modest, L.A. version of the Before Sunrise/Sunset movies. At a Q&A afterwards, director Alex Holdridge mentioned that he was good friends with Richard Linklater, who of course directed those Before movies, so the connection is tangible. In Search of a Midnight Kiss doesn't possess the lofty ambition of those films, but in its own way, it has as much to say about love at the particular age these characters are in, the loneliness of living in a big city, and of dreams that go unfulfilled.

Friday afternoon, I screened Chris Eska's August Evening, an ultra low-budget movie that was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards this year. Like Holdridge for the previous film, Eska was in attendance and participated in a Q&A. Echoes of classic Ozu, especially his masterpiece Tokyo Story, the film centers around the familial relationship between Jaime and his widowed daughter-in-law, Lupe. The leads, Pedro Castaneda and Veronica Loren, are nonprofessional actors and, on top of that, also translated Eska's screenplay into Spanish from its original English.

Sometimes the best part of going to festivals is that the filmmakers get to participate and attend and answer audience questions. I often complain to some friends about how I don't like to hang around "film-y" people. I find that a lot of them are pretentious. [Your joke about me here.] I find that a lot of them are self-consciously quirky, edgy, and artsy. I find that many of them are just as fake as the Hollywood people they would presume to oppose. But after listening to both Holdridge and Eska, two people who seem both modest and unassuming, it renews my faith in independent cinema, both the culture of the indie world and the artists who help create it.

Quick note: Both In the Search of a Midnight Kiss and Situation Frank (part of the terrific International Narrative Shorts program) end with the old Scorpions' tune "Winds of Change". These movies couldn't be any further from each other save for the fact that they were both screened at FFF. Are the Scorpions going on a reunion tour or something?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

FFF: Day 5 & 6

After a much needed day off, I went headlong into another couple of days and six more screenings. I was prepared to talk about some of the highlights. How much I was charmed by the Israeli film Jellyfish. How I enjoyed The Cake Eaters, whose director--actress Mary Stuart Masterson--was a special guest and was just as lovely to listen to as her movie was to watch. How surprised, after a tedious and clumsy first few minutes, I was at how affectionate I felt toward Tom Gustafson's gay fantasia (that sounds like porn, but it's not) Were the World Mine.

But instead I am compelled to relay two stories. The first comes after watching The Cake Eaters and the subsequent Q&A with Mary Stuart Masterson. So I go to the bathroom to, you know, use the bathroom. For people who have never been, the Enzian theater has a fairly small one. Anyway, I open the door and what I assume is a line is actually a couple of guys waiting to pass by because a guy in a motorized wheelchair is somehow stuck in the little nook behind the door. What exactly the problem was I couldn't figure out, but there was another man helping the guy in the wheelchair and eventually he was able to get out. After a couple of seconds, I realized that the guy helping out was actually the director of a short called Shrinks. I'd seen him at a Q&A earlier when I saw a shorts program and, while I also gave him a good score on the audience ballot, I'd like to give him a good samaritan shout out. Not only did I like your film, Gregg Brown, I admire your citizenship!

On a less happy note, a terrible incident happened at the Animated Shorts program I attended. Five of the filmmakers whose shorts were being screened happened to be sitting in front of me. After A Letter to Colleen started, I heard Carolyn London--one of its directors--say to one of the house managers that there should be audio that isn't being played correctly. They shut off the movie and tried to fix it so it could be started again from the beginning. This started to take awhile and since it was the second-to-last short in the program, people got impatient and decided to leave. The film got rolling again--sound on this time--but after a few minutes just cut off completely. More people left and the directors, Carolyn & Andy London, understandably looked even more upset than they already were. Their film was in competition, up for a jury award and an audience award. With maybe a quarter of the people gone, that's a quarter of the people in the audience who won't even vote for their movie (and the one after it) while all the other movies got votes. I find this massively unfair and I am just as massively disappointed that this festival--my festival--would conduct itself in this manner. I walk around wearing my various festival t-shirts this week and all year-round with pride, proud to even be just a participant in a 10-day event that celebrates something I love dearly. Maybe tomorrow I'll decide to wear a different t-shirt.