Wednesday, January 31, 2007

IFFR – Short Film Awards

The results came in on Monday night about the short film awards. Before I get to that, I want to mention how Henk, one of the two students who were running the contest by handing out phones (but not one of the judges), told me there was one other entry that I needed to see. He brought me back, behind the scenes, where the computer server was and cued up a short.

It was called “Whatever Makes You Happy.” And I’m the star of it.

Apparently, when Adam, his friend Andy and I were at de Doelen finishing up our cell phone movies by adding titles and adding music, there was a guy at our table who was also entering the contest unbeknownst to us. He had turned his camera phone on me, catching me laughing and being amused with what was happening on my phone. The guy stopped filming when he thought we caught him doing it.

I’m happy to be in the movie, but I take issue with the title. It seems a little ironic, a little distant, like it’s scoffing at somebody who is having a good time. I’m also a little surprised at how big my beard has gotten. My face is silhouetted in profile against a window and POW! Look at that beard!

At that time, as Adam was adding music (the phones have stock music that can loop under the movie you make, which is cool) he also needed to add titles. His titles weren’t snappy enough, so for his movie that pans along mannequin heads in a store window, with the music from Psycho playing underneath, I suggested something that became “Dressed to de Palma,” which plays off of De Palma’s Dressed to Kill and his love of/appropriation of Hitchcock. Adam did another one with his friend Andy sort of walking and spinning on those metal planks with the Pathé theater in the background. The movie got good when he added silent film music, but he still needed a title. I suggested “Pathé Ballet.” I forget what his third one was called off the top of my head.

Anyway, I’m at the awards. I had eaten dinner with Adam earlier and he said he would meet me there after he went to a screening of something or other. I was hanging with friends of Henk and Emile, other students, and Henk kept asking me if I thought I would win. To be honest, the day before I did believe I would win, but then I got past that because thinking that way leads to madness.

Oh, then Henk told me that he got into a bit of trouble because apparently Adam and I were not supposed to be able to enter the contest. It was only for directors who came to the festival, and not for industry. This became an issue because the two best movies, according to the judges, were not made by directors visiting the festival.


So the awards ceremony starts. It’s a ceremony for the short films in competition at the festival, but they start with the One Take Challenge winners. There’s two categories, a student category and a directors category. But we don't care about the student category because we don't know anybody there.

And the winner of 500 Euros and a brand new phone turned out to be… Adam Sekuler! Which is awesome. If it wasn’t going to be me, I’m glad it was him. After all, I wouldn’t have even joined the competition without him. And the movie he won for? None other than “Pathé Ballet.” I do believe that the title helped push it over the edge and into the winner’s circle, but that’s because it works well with the content and the music. Taken separately, that’s not a winning movie. Together, that makes Adam 500 Euros richer and the recipient of a brand new, James Bond edition of a Sony Ericsson phone.

But Adam wasn’t there. Part of me wanted to pretend to be him while accepting the award, but that would have been a hollow victory. So I went on stage to accept for him and said he was at a movie. And for Seattle! Adam, if you’re reading this, come get your phone. As for the money, they were smart enough not to give it to me to give to you.

Oh, and for those who want to know the winners of the official Tiger Awards for short films, they went to Hinterland, The Flag and Video Game. The judges said it was very contentious, and they gave out a couple of honorary mentions. The judges said they argued quite a bit, and I can't tell if they gave out three awards because they couldn't agree on one, because it looks like they did the same thing last year. Maybe they always give out three awards. Actually, looking at their official site, it looks like maybe they do present three every year. That's nice for the judges, especially when they disagree.

IFFR Dutch Films

This year Rotterdam had massive difficulties with their catalog. The festival opened on Wednesday and the catalog wasn’t ready. They did have a handy little guide that has grids of when and where all the screenings are, including press and industry screenings, which also contains two- to three-sentence descriptions of the movies. But they didn’t have the big book with the in-depth descriptions. Thursday was the first full day of the festival, and they were saying they hoped to get the book out by Friday. Well, they finally got the catalog out on Saturday, but by the time I showed up to get mine they told me they had run out, and could I come back on Monday. So I finally got my catalog halfway through my stay at the festival.

That’s not good. Not to mention the catalog is incomplete.

A piece of paper in each catalog says this: “Due to technical problems there has been a delay in the delivery of our catalogue. It also appeared that some titles were not included, which are listed below. Full information of these titles has already been published on” Then it lists the titles that aren’t there.

What it doesn’t list are the Dutch movies that are playing in the festival. After each title there is a two-letter code that says what section of the festival each title is in, like TG = Tiger, and KA = Maestros: Kings & Aces. That sort of thing. Well, there’s one symbol that’s not explained anywhere, and that is DT. I must assume that means “Dutch” because they are Dutch films. But that’s nowhere to be found in the little catalog or the big. The little catalog has the two- to three-sentence descriptions of these films, but the big catalog omits them entirely.

Are they ashamed of their own cinema? They shouldn’t be. I saw one comedy called Waiter that I liked quite a bit. Apparently it’s already been in the theaters in the Netherlands. It must not have gotten international distribution, and that’s a shame because it was very amusing.

I think I’ve been here a week already. The festival haze is starting to kick in. I’ve been averaging almost four movies a day, I’ve seen 24 movies so far, and I think I have 2 and a half days of viewing left. I’ve liked some movies quite a bit, disliked a few, thought a bunch were “not bad.” Par for the festival course, eh?

Monday, January 29, 2007

IFFR Festival - Contest

My short film has been posted onto the contest website.

You can find it HERE. Scroll to the bottom and click on "Free Phones!" That one's mine. But we were allowed to make more than one. I've got another one in there called "Tribute to Christopher Doyle."

I saw my "Free Phones!" short play on a monitor at one of the venues. I've now had a movie play in Rotterdam. Adam Sekuler's short "Dressed to de Palma" played on the monitor, too. You can find that on-line also.

So you've got my two titles, so here are the titles to Adam's other movies (be sure to have the sound on, because his movies work better with the soundtracks he added):
"Pathe Ballet"
"Sky Turns"

So that's how we've been spending some of our spare time.

IFFR Festival Day 3

Frustrating start to the day. I had been using my cell phone as my alarm clock because my room doesn't have one and I didn't want to set a wake-up call. That's been working great up until now. Here's what I wanted to get up for: A boat cruise with Industry and short filmmakers. We were to meet at the port-of-call at 10am, and the port-of-call is right by my hotel. I went to sleep with my phone on one bar of battery (out of three), and during the night it died. I woke up at 10:30. It put me in a foul mood for a while, but then I shook it off and ended up watching four movies. But it was a late start, and a frustrating one.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

IFFR Festival Day 2 – The Contest

On the second full day, I walked out of a film (I lasted an hour, and I’m not sure how, as it was a low-tech, long-take, poorly thought-out thing) and on my way back to festival HQ I ran across Adam, his friend Andy who was on break from studying law abroad, and some other woman they knew. They were heading back to the place I just left to pick up cell phones and become part of the One Take Competition 2007. It’s a contest for people to make short films, maximum of two minutes, on cell phones that they provide.

Sounded interesting, so I joined them. I didn’t really think they’d be handing out cell phones to strangers, but it was worth looking into. Sure enough, we found a student of the Willem de Kooning Academy, Henk Jelle Groot, who pulled out four cell phones to give to us for 24 hours. In that time we could make as many 2-minute (or less) movies that we wanted to, as long as they were one take with no editing. We could, however, add text over the picture or title cards at the beginning or end.

As Henk was explaining how to use the phones, and answering some of our questions, I started to use the phone to videotape his presentation. I thought the clip would be disqualified when I let it go to 2 minutes and 5 seconds, but I learned that there is a “trim” function on the phone that we could use to shorten the movie. This clip was safe.

The rest of the day, between going to movies, I made some movies. I kept thinking of text that I wanted to place over it, like the shot of the reflections of water on the metal town square and how it’s all about to turn to ice again. Or the office building where we could watch workers as though they were characters in their own movies, and mine. Or the condemned building where I don’t know what I would write, but it looked cool. Or the Belgian Fries stand at dusk, with the neon overhead, that looked like a set from a Wong Kar-wai film.

I started with the instructional footage, where Henk was giving four strangers brand new cell phones, in their boxes. I called it “Free Phones!” I added text that said everything we were thinking, like: we could have given them fake names, he never checked our I.D., we could just steal these phones… but if we did that we couldn’t enter the contest. My final flourish was the last thing I wrote: “Stealing images” [followed by] “is more fun” [followed by] “than stealing phones.” Bam! It felt good! It was funny. It described and supported the contest. I liked it. That took quite a while to edit, which I did before going to some film, I forget .

I knew I couldn’t do one as intricate as that again, so I chose my other favorite clip: the Belgian fries stand. I trimmed it a little bit and called it “Tribute to Christopher Doyle” because Chris Doyle is the cinematographer who helped make Wong Kar-wei’s images famous. It didn’t seem quite complete, but it was free to enter so what the heck.

Then next day I ran across Adam and Andy in de Doelen (fest HQ). They had shot some movies too. They liked mine (just one typo, but no way to fix it), and Adam was already proclaiming it the winner. He made three, all pretty good city snapshots, but they got a heck of a lot better when he figured out how to add music. I helped him with his titles, too. I can’t remember what his abstract, mobile sculpture piece got called (his best, I think, with an ominous soundtrack), but I helped him come up with “Pathé Ballet” (which shows Andy walking and spinning in front of the Pathé theater, with a silent movie piano underneath) and helped give the inspiration for “Dressed to De Palma” (shots of mannequins in a window with a version of the Psycho theme playing underneath). It’s the music and the titles that make him serious competition for me.

Then I added some nice, spacey music under my Christopher Doyle movie, and it got a whole lot better.

We turned in our phones after finishing the sound. Henk was there with his fellow student, Emile Steginga, a guy who is two meters tall (which translates to 6 feet and nearly 7 inches). They both really enjoyed my movie. They’re not the judges, but they may have some influence.


I saw Henk and Emile both again today, and they still like my movie best. I don’t know who the judges are, but that bodes really well. They said that they uploaded a few choice phone videos to play on the festival monitors around the fest, and mine is one of them. That means one of my films is playing Rotterdam! Yee-haw!

We find out Monday night who wins. I'll post a link when you can see my movies.

Holy crap, I forgot to tell you about the best part: the prizes. The winner gets one of the phones (the special James Bond edition) and 500 Euros. Wish me luck!

IFFR Festival Day 1

There can be upwards of seven screens running simultaneous press/industry screenings, which is awesome. Two of the screens are in the Cinerama, a multiplex two minutes away from my hotel. It’s particularly nice when my first chosen press screenings of the day are there, which happened two of these first three full days of the festival. The rest of the venues are less than a 10-minute walk from there. Very handy.

Saw four movies on the first day, including the official opening night movie La antena, which is a fun and stylish, Guy Maddin-esque silent(ish) film set in a sci-fi alternate 1950s. Whereas Maddin is increasingly allowing the grain and edits to show, this is more slickly put together, but it shares a similar fondness for absurdity. Rounded out the day with email and food and tried to catch up on festival reports and blogging, and it is sort of impossible to finish all that, so eventually it was to bed, to bed!

I should mention that when I read the paperwork I turned into the hotel to cover my room and expenses, it indicated that I wasn’t supposed to be part of the free breakfast that the hotel offers (do some people pay extra for that?). But I pretended I didn’t read it because the staff never told me not to come to breakfast. So I have been going down every morning and filling up on fried eggs, tiny pastries, coffee and orange juice, sometimes cereal with yogurt, and then I make tiny little meat and cheese sandwiches that I bag and bring with me for lunch.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

IFFR Opening Night

Adam Sekuler and I knew we couldn’t get tickets to the official Opening Night film La antena, but I suspected we could get into the opening night party. I asked at Guest Relations if there was anything at all we could get into this evening, lest we spend a day in Rotterdam without seeing any movies. Turns out they had a second opening night film (not quite sure how or why), and there were tickets available. And it was Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn. Hot damn. All that and the opening night party too.

We wandered back to our respective hotels, but not before stopping for dinner at a Tiki bar. Not bad, either.

I meant to finish unpacking when I got back to my dorm room, but I looked at that little twin bed and I knew that I needed a nap. With no alarm clock in my room, I pulled out my thought-to-be-useless-in-the-EU cell phone and set its alarm. When I woke up, there was no time for unpacking. Alas.

Met Adam in front of the Pathé, a giant aluminum box full of state of the art theaters that is situated on a sort of town square/stage that is made mostly of aluminum planks. The sun had set and the water had frozen on the metal, and though that was slippery as all get out, it wasn’t as slippery as those sections of the square that are made of wood. It was slow going across this glacial expanse.

Once inside we were handed glasses of champagne. Nice. We mingled, and by “mingled” I mean we walked around the lobby talking to one another because we didn’t know anyone else there. But we had each other. Another glass of champagne and it was into the theater. Big huge screen, curved so it didn’t lose focus on the edges. That’s how big it is.

The movie was great, and when we got out we headed over to the Opening Night Party. Spoiled by years of free beer and wine at the Seattle International Film Festival, we were surprised to see that we had to buy our drinks despite prominent advertising for their booze sponsor. Ah well. C’est la vie. We wandered the party and still didn’t know anyone, so we headed home to get ready for the first full day of screenings.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

IFFR Getting There

On my way to Rotterdam for the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), left the house early in the morning to catch the 8:30 am flight to Chicago, then to Brussels. I arrived at 8:00 in the morning the next day, Rotterdam time. The time change is 9 hours, so either I arrived at 11:00 pm Seattle time or I left at 5:30 pm Rotterdam time. Either way, I got 4 to 5 hours of sleep, which seems like it was pretty good.

Upon arriving in Brussels, I met up with Northwest Film Forum program director Adam Sekuler, who is also a programmer for experimental films at SIFF. We traveled to the airport together (thank you, Heidi), but he transferred in New York to Brussels when I transferred in Chicago. We arrived in Brussels within 10 minutes of each other.

After getting our bags, it was time to figure out how to get to Rotterdam. The easy part was buying a train ticket to Rotterdam from the airport, costing a mere 25 Euros. Then nothing was marked with anything that was on our tickets, so we asked and were directed to track 1, to Brussels-North. We got off there and looked for any mention of Rotterdam, but no luck, so we asked again and they said take the train to Amsterdam. Of course. We found that, and when we got on that train the conductress told us we’d be changing trains at Antwerp-Berchem. Why not, eh? Once there, we had a straight shot through the farmland and the green scenery to Rotterdam.

Once we got to Rotterdam, things didn’t quite fall into place like I’m used to. We find the Metro station, and there’s ticket purchasing machines that we interact with, but none of them have the names of either of the stations that we need to get to. A helpful Metro employee sees our confusion, asks if we have any Euro coins (not enough) and brings us up to the separate Metro ticket counter. They don’t take credit cards, but I changed some money over, and we buy our tickets. The Metro woman explains that, before I enter, I need to fold the ticket after number one so it time stamps onto the second strip because I’m only going one zone. Adam needs to fold after the two and stamp the time onto number three because he’s going two zones. Make sense? Not to me, neither. Maybe if I could read Dutch it would make more sense.

We split up and agree to meet at “de Doelen,” the festival’s headquarters. I check into the EuroHotel, only to discover that the room is the size of a single occupancy dorm room: Twin bed, desk, wooden armoire thing standing in for a closet, nightstand, TV. What makes it better than a dorm room is the fact that there’s a bathroom and shower included. Ah well, all the more reason to stay out and see more movies.

I meet Adam at my Metro stop (my hotel is on one off those crazy, old-European angled streets that doesn’t feel like it’s on the same plane of existence as the rest of the city, and too hard to explain how to get to at this point) and we decide to walk to “de Doelen.” We walk to the next big intersection and take a right. Just like my map says. But apparently we didn’t go “right” enough. We get a little lost, but it’s a nice day, and we find our way back to the festival headquarters.

And you know what? When it comes right down to it, the Rotterdam weather has been quite nice today, sunny and in the low 40s. And somehow everything that’s green, like the grass and the leaves that are still on trees, everything is extra green. Very pretty.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

FILM Zoo interview

My interview with Charles Mudede, one of the author’s of the Sundance documentary Zoo just posted to GreenCine daily.

If you don’t know about the movie, which is stirring up all sorts of controversy at Sundance, here’s a brief excerpt from my introduction to the piece:

"Back in 2005, when the Seattle Times reported on the 'Enumclaw Horse Sex Incident,' the story spread like wildfire across the Internet and became their most-read story of the year. It also caught the eyes of Seattle-based director Robinson Devor and writer Charles Mudede, whose dreamily poetic feature film Police Beat debuted at Sundance just six months prior. The resulting documentary essay is Zoo, which is premiering at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival."

Go to to get the whole article.

Hopefully by the time you read it, they will have changed the author byline from Sara Schieron to my name. I assure you that I did not intentionally write the piece under the pen name of Sara Schieron.

Friday, January 19, 2007

FILM Perfume / Notes on a Scandal


Obsession can be a funny thing, both “funny ha-ha” and “funny destructive.” Obsession will sneak up on you, too. You don't always recognize it as its grip on you tightens. I know that whenever I say yes to “just one more game” of online Sudoko, each blog entry will take that much longer to write. But there’s something about that obsessive drive that is positively cinematic, probably because the object of the obsession is usually something other than video games and the like. In movies, obsessions are pushed to the extreme and either destroy other people or the person who harbors it, sometimes both.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is about an artist who is obsessed with smells. Born behind the stand of a fishmonger in stinky 18th century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) grows up to realize that he’s got the best, most accurate sense of smell in the world. That’s not enough to break him out of poverty and manual labor until he stumbles across the once-famous perfume maker Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), and helps him to mimic and surpass the trendy scents of the day.

Jean-Baptiste is an artist when it comes to mixing and manufacturing scents, but he isn’t interested in money as much as collecting the scents of "real life." More specifically, he’s looking to capture the smell of the beautiful plum seller who he accidentally killed one night. His art is his obsession. Of course, to bottle the scent of a beautiful young woman you need to kill her first, and so he becomes a serial killer.

Let me just say right now that the movie is great, and the reason it’s great is because it’s really, really funny. But it’s a deadpan kind of humor, a British style of humor. It’s as though the narration by John Hurt was written by Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) or was pulled from a Monty Python sketch. Pip pip to German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) for pulling off what many have said was an impossible book to adapt. The only other director I can think of who could have pulled it off is Quentin Tarantino, but I only say that because I think he could have matched the humor and style that Tykwer infused into it.


Another cinematic example of obsession can be found in Notes on a Scandal. The beauty of this film is that it is completely subjective. Cate Blanchett plays Sheba Hart and Judi Dench plays Barbara Covett (damn! I had no idea that was her last name! That is too perfect, too spot-on, which is probably why they left it for me to find on the imdb instead of emphasizing it in the movie itself).

The whole story is from Barbara’s point of view, the whole movie is a visual representation of her personal diaries. Whenever we see Sheba, it’s filtered through Barbara’s perception of her, and Barbara is completely obsessed with her. That’s why Sheba is always portrayed as such a bohemian and sexual being. It’s all that Barbara can see in her. And yet she’s in denial about depth of her feelings for Sheba. If there’s one thing that’s more interesting in cinema than obsession, it’s self-denial. That goes for books as much as movies, maybe more. There’s something so engaging about questioning the narrative voice, the authoritative voice of a story.

When my friends and I got out of the movie we had the discussion as to whether Barbara was a lesbian or not. The real question is whether she knew she was a lesbian. My take was that she was from a generation where being a lesbian was not an option, and she has led a repressed life for so long she doesn’t realize how her obsessions manifest themselves, and never realizes why another female teacher may want to take out a restraining order against her. And because the movie expresses her point of view, we’re never supposed to realize why either. Unless we start to doubt the author’s intent. And for me, doubting the author’s intent is always fun.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007



Like most people who work in the film industry, especially in Seattle (though it's probably the same in every city), January starts out dead. And I was starting out with a little more than pocket change. I was worried I would never pull a paycheck again. The freelancer's lament, et al.

At a New Years Day party I fronted the fact that I was a Script Supervisor looking for work. At a fundraiser for the Seattle filmmaker (as a writer/director and as a 1st Assistant Director) Megan Griffith's new feature, I did the same thing. And it is starting to pay off. I think it was all on the same day last week that I got three job offers. One possible job offer from the new TV show from "Bill Nye the Science Guy." One job offer from this movie that's shooting on Vashon Island in February. Those are the two jobs that I got from networking at these parties, and of course they conflict. Because the TV job would be longer term, I'm (still) holding out hope for that one, and will have to tell the Vashon Island job whether or not I need to pass on Wednesday or so. But that's only two of three jobs.

Another job offer came in out of the blue. Last summer I worked on a show for Fox Sports called Destination Wild, and the producer of that recommended my services to a guy who was coming to Seattle to shoot a corporate video for ClearW*ire, which is a new wireless cable company based on WiFi technology and the like. Initially that also conflicted with the TV job, but when the TV job got pushed I took the corporate gig. I'm working on that coporate gig right now.

That's why I haven't finished my reviews of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and Notes on a Scandal. I've been busy.

Plus, I've been transcribing my interview with Charles Mudede, the author of the new Sundance documentary Zoo, which I'll link to when it posts.

Plus, I've been getting ready to go to the Rotterdam Film Festival as a programmer for the Seattle International Film Festival. More on that later.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

FILM 51 Birch Street

January 12–18
Northwest Film Forum

Through shows like This American Life and others, National Public Radio has made a certain kind of storytelling popular. Without the support of text or images, it’s a personal style that is, almost by definition, self-involved. Depending on the narrator, the stories are sometimes witty and sometimes whiny, and almost all of them are punctuated with sappy, inappropriate music.

Well, that style of storytelling is now infecting the personal documentary, as Doug Block’s sometimes fascinating and sometimes annoying 51 Birch Street proves.

Three months after his mother dies, Doug Block’s father announces that he’s going to marry his former secretary. Doug and his sisters are initially shocked, and so Doug starts to investigate whether his now happy and outgoing father ever had an affair with this woman. Then he discovers his mother’s diaries, which gives him a whole different perspective on his parents’ marriage and forces him to see them as people instead of parents.

Sounds fascinating, right? It is. So is the home movie footage that he incorporates into the piece.

But that’s only half the story. The other half is Doug’s whiny and annoying journey of self-discovery, as spoken through his narration. It’s everything that’s bad about NPR personal stories, which means most people won’t mind it. For example, after he finds his mom’s diaries he says in his voiceover, “Mom’s secrets are here for the taking, but do I have the right?” Please! Either take them or don’t, but don’t dwell on the hesitation.

By speaking over chunks of the footage, he tries to make the documentary more about him than his parents. Luckily, his parents’ story is stronger, which makes 51 Birch Street worth watching.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

EGO Avatar vs. Avatar

Who’s going to back down first? Two films with the title Avatar were announced within hours of each other, according to the Sci Fi Channel’s entertainment news wire.

James Cameron is finishing up his decade off of feature filmmaking with Avatar, the story of an ex-marine who is unwillingly sent to settle and exploit a faraway planet, who then gets caught up in a battle for survival by the planet’s inhabitants.

Once again Cameron is going to be pushing the edge of technology by combining live action with “virtual photorealistic production techniques,” or in other words using motion capture and cutting edge visual effects to help create an entire alien world and ecosystem that a live-action human protagonist will enter. He’s working with Peter Jackson’s visual effects house, and it shouldn't be a suprise that he is helping create a brand new digital 3-D format for its 3-D release. He starts shooting in April for a projected 2009 release.

Meanwhile, M. Night Shyamalan has his own Avatar in the works. It’s based on the Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender but will be live-action. The show is set in a world of martial arts and magic, and follows one of a long line of “Avatars” who “must put aside his irresponsible ways and stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the Water, Earth and Air nations.” The show is quite popular with kids 6 to 14, and Shyamalan does seem focused on pleasing children (his own and others), what with the “bedtime story” that was Lady in the Water.

As of right now the titles are the same. If it were any other filmmaker besides Shyamalan, I would assume he or she would cede the Avatar title to Cameron, but from what I’ve read this Shyamalan cat is a strange mix of insecurity and ego. He so believes in himself and his own projects that I could imagine him calling up Cameron and asking him to change the title of his movie, despite the fact that it’s been the pet project that he has been thinking about since Titanic.

Shyamalan does have an ego-saving out. The cartoon series does have a subtitle, “The Last Airbender” (whatever that means), which could become the title of the movie. But it is a projected series of films and, even adjusting for a slow creative process, Shyamalan’s film will hit the theaters first. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Thanks again to Sci Fi Channel’s Sci Fi Wire for this information.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

FILM Old Joy

Plays January 5-18
Northwest Film Forum

I’m not sure why Old Joy works as well as it does, but it does. What I can see is why it ended up on so many top 10 lists last year and will probably win the Independent Spirit Award for best film made for under $500,000. You see, the movie has so few words in it, it’s almost like you need to review it with pictures or photos. But I’ll try with words…

The story is basic. Before his wife gives birth to their first child, Mark (Daniel London) decides to take some time off from responsibilities around the home and go on a camping trip with an old friend he hasn’t seen in years. The old friend is Kurt (Will Oldham), a chronically underemployed free spirit who gets by on charm and grand ideas. John Hartl in The Seattle Times compared them to Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner with Andre, and I wish I would have thought of that myself because it’s a great way to describe this pragmatic guy hanging out with this idealistic dreamer.

This time Kurt’s big idea is to find these hot springs just east of Mark’s Portland home. So they buy some weed and hit the road. And they drive. Sometimes they talk and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they remember mutual friends or make basic observations, and sometimes they just stare at the scenery as they drive. And you are with them doing the very same thing. It’s one of those relaxing road trips where the journey is as important as the destination. It’s sort of uneventful, but it’s never boring.

I don’t know how much footage director Kelly Reichardt had to work with, I don’t know how many improvised conversations she had to draw from, I don’t know how much scenery she filmed, but she and her editor picked the most representational footage for a road trip. The story feels like it’s unfolding before you instead of along some predetermined structure. It could go anywhere, and you’d go right along with it.

Ultimately the trip wraps up, Mark rejoins his wife, and the two continue on with their separate lives. Was it completely transformative? Probably not, but it was a good trip and both are glad they made it. And you will be too if you join them. Heck, I'd go so far as to say that if you feel like going on a camping trip but don’t have the time or inclination to actually get away, then go see Old Joy. It's the next best thing to being there, and a damn good movie in its own right.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

FILM Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie

Good news on the future movie front. A new animated feature is on the horizon, one that doesn’t include talking animals or dancing penguins or anything that has been littering the animated landscapes of late. Instead it will feature talking objects like a hunk of meat (Meatwad), a large container of French fries with laser vision (Frylock), and a large shake with a bad attitude (Master Shake).

Yep, I just read in Variety that the Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force is going to be a movie, and I read elsewhere that it’s going to hit at least 800 screens. Take THAT, Mr. Hou Hsiao-hsien!

The plot? I suppose it would be tough to do 86 minutes without a plot. This comes from the Adult Swim website:

"The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie Film for Theatres is an action-adventure epic that tackles the mysterious circumstances that brought Meatwad, Frylock and Master Shake together. An immortal piece of exercise equipment threatens the balance of galactic peace, and it is up to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force to run away from it. Complicating matters, the Plutonians team up with the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future for ultimate control of the deadly device."

"It was too big a story to do in 11 minutes," co-creator Dave Willis told Daily Variety. "It's based on our fear of exercise equipment."

One of the great things about animated films is that it’s relatively easy to get famous people to do cameos because all they gotta do is show up in a sound studio for half a day and record some lines. The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie Film for Theatres (god, I love that title) has a few people lined up, including cult star/movie whore Bruce Campbell and, in an inspired bit of casting, Neil Peart, the drummer from RUSH!

To read a review I wrote about RUSH’s seminal album 2112, click HERE.

Right now The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie Film for Theatres is scheduled to be released in March by First Look Pictures. To see a clip that is being touted as their teaser trailer, click HERE.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

FILM Rocky Balboa


In a semi-autobiographical parable, Rocky Balboa is serving to revive Sylvester Stallone’s career. If the first Rocky film charted Stallone’s struggle to make it as an actor (he wouldn’t sell the script unless he could star in the movie), Rocky Balboa takes the point of view of a successful has-been who decides he’s not done yet. Directed as well as written by Stallone, it is chock full of nostalgia. Talia Shire’s Adrian has died from “women’s cancer” and, when he’s not visiting her grave, Rocky is content being a local celebrity who tells tales of his former glory in his restaurant. On the anniversary of her death, he travels to all the locations from the first film that have since been torn down and he remembers how things used to be. It may as well be Stallone looking back on all his successful action movies (including five previous Rocky films), and now unable to find an appropriate vehicle unless he makes it for himself.

So a computer program says that Rocky in his prime would beat the current champ Mason Dixon, a Mike Tyson-like fighter who knocks people out quickly and alienates audiences. Rocky decides to get back in the game, despite the protests of a son who’s trying to succeed in business without the embarrassment of his father’s doomed comeback. As soon as you can say “training montage,” we’re back in Rockyland, complete with that awesome soundtrack.

Could a 50something boxer last 10 rounds in the ring with a boxer in his prime? Doesn’t matter, because the music and editing take your mind off of any questions of veracity. This is, after all, an emotional journey and nothing close to a documentary.

The only place where Stallone stumbles is with the character “Little Marie,” a 30something (or older?) bartender who he used to walk home when she was eight. If this doesn’t immediately trigger strange Oedipal reactions against this coupling, the fact that he meets her on the anniversary of Adrian’s death is another warning sign. Either they’re sleeping together or they’re not, but when he brings her to Las Vegas for the exhibition match you gotta think something is going on. Their relationship is left deliberately vague and she barely talks, which means not only is Stallone using her as a stand-in for a love interest, so is Rocky himself.

If her character takes you out of the movie in a bad way, Burt Young’s Paulie takes you out of the movie in a great way. It’s hard to tell if it’s because Young is old and verging on senile or if that’s how he chose to play his part, but he is hilarious throughout. I hope the next sequel is all about Paulie. The way he barks his lines as though he just woke up, the way he spouts what sound like non-sequiturs, his whole shambling frame, everything about him is awesome to watch.

The success of Rocky Balboa, both critically and with audiences, has given Stallone a Rocky-like comeback. It’ll be interesting to see if he can do the same thing with the rumored sequel to his other iconic character from the Reagan-’80s, Rambo, especially since the political winds have shifted Democratically.