Archive for January 2010

Youtube and google provide a new platform for indie film distribution

January 29, 2010

Slate has an article about a new streaming video on demand service that it is starting, allowing films that haven’t gotten distribution to try to get some buzz out there and some viewers. One of the first films available in their launch is 2009’s excellent Children of Invention, which I reviewed after seeing it at the Independent Film Festival Boston last April.

This is an interesting idea and one that may do for films what Myspace has done for any little band who has recorded a few songs.

What I’m skeptical about is the $3.99 price tag per view. With Netflix and Red-box, among others, providing a greater variety of films at a lower price, how many people out there are going to plunk down this amount to see a film that already has the stigma of not being good enough for distribution. If they reduced to price to $.99 I could see more people taking a shot with this.

An unrelated issue is (cue Jeff being a curmudgeon traditionalist) something my good friend Caitlin pointed out recently: is this just another part of the trend towards making films for the small screen? Something about the experience of a film is lost when it’s not seen in a theater. If this becomes a viable platform for release will small-budget film makers just forego even pursing distribution deals and make their films specifically for this less tradtional, more television-like medium?

Nonetheless, I would again recommend everyone check this out by watching Children of Invention. And, if you do, let me know what you think of the platform as well as the film.


Almost forgot

January 19, 2010

In the Loop

I also saw this this weekend. Freaking amazingly hillarious! This completely flew under my radar at the beginning of last year when it breifly made it to theaters in my city (I think.) This was, without a doubt, the second best political satire I’ve ever seen (first, of course, is Dr. Strangelove.) It’s got a real faux-documentary, Christopher Guest kinda feel to it and the comedy is similar as well. The actors that really make this film are Tom Hollander and Peter Capaldi as the ineffectual and gaffe-prone British Minister of International Development and the Prime Minister’s press secretary Director of Communications respectively. Hollander plays the low-level politician thrown completely out of his depth after diving head first into the issues during the run up to the Iraq War. All of the world leaders, deciding upon what may be the greatest and most important issue of their careers, are shown to be completely bumbling and inept at every turn. The film, however, is completely made by the incredibly creative, biting and hillarious insults the spew forth from the Scottish-brougued mouth of Capaldi (and, to a lesser extent only in his short amount of screen time, his similarly Scottish second.) The 2nd best film of the year – I’m so glad I finally caught it.

My movie weekend

January 19, 2010

Sadly I did not make it to any of the screenings of La Dolce Vita so I will again put off seeing that one. I think my next vegetables film will be Louis Malle’s Au Reviour Les Enfants.

But I did see a buttload of films this past weekend. Here’s a few words about them.

The White Ribbon

I was quite excited for Haneke’s new film and Ms. Marcia Hern was kind enough to join me on it’s first night at the Kendall Cinema here in Cambridge. Would you believe that this movie was pretty much just what I expected. Haneke’s usual themes of the darkness of the human soul and the ability for society to poison children and drive them to terrible deeds dominate the film. Haneke has continued his evolution into a talented crafter of a sort of ambiguous thriller (it’s good to see his pointless remake of Funny Games was merely a small bump in the road.)

The cinematography was beautiful (interesting that it was initailly filmed in color on digital and then was altered to black and white in post-production.) There was some really wonderful use of light and darkness in this film (specifically the scene in which the doctor’s son walks down the stairs in the darkness and wanders about the house calling out for his sister.) I was reminded of the stunning scenes near the beginning of Haneke’s Time of the Wolf that were lit solely by small amounts of burning hay (and later by a burning barn and, at the end of the film, a bonfire on the train tracks.) I think Haneke is underrated as a visual filmmaker who is not only able to create incredible tension and discomfort but glorious film images.

The Baader-Meinhof Komplex

Thanks to Netflix on-demand for hosting this film, a closely detailed (as to be almost procedural) examination of Germany’s far leftist youthful domestic terrorist group from the 1970s, the Red Army Faction. Quite an exciting film that revels in it’s scenes of shootings, robberies and free love. I’ve read many reviews stating that the film does not romanticize the group or the experiences of it’s members but, being that they all look to have been young, sexy and driven, it almost makes me wish I could go out and join them! This was a quite enjoyable film overall but what I really felt was lacking was more of an examination of the specifically German aspects of their ideology – any characteristic that made the RAF different from the Weathermen or the Symbionese Liberation Army in the US just eluded me. This was a country not only divided by (and a flash point of) the Cold War but also one just 25 years removed from being the perpetrator of some of the greatest horrors in human history. Overall quite worth seeing and pretty compelling throughout it’s over 2 hour running time.

The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down

Thanks again to Netflix for this little gem – a small but well done send-up of teenage health-class instructional videos focusing on how to be and be successful as an LA hipster. With in-depth instructions (along with helpful dramatizations) for things like how to avoid having everybody at the party snort all of the coke you brought this film really hit the spot and had a surprisingly high-budget look for a film that initially struck me as a straight to video piece of junk. Even the acting was pretty unoffensive and the in-jokes of the scene are sure to be appreciated by pretty much anyone who lives in a US city and is under 40 years of age. Definitely suggested a popcorn movie for Netflix subscribers.

I also re-watched The Hurt Locker, enjoying it almost as much as my first viewing. Was I was most struck by this second time around was the small detail added to the sniper scene in the desert. One soldier retrives, opens and prepares a capri-sun style juice pouch for another so he can keep his eye trained through his gun’s scope and on the target. The intimacy of this scene is one I’ve never before experienced and I think gave me a new view of the unique closeness felt between soldiers on the battlefield, but without any of the rising strings or scenery chewing found in many other films that push that point (see Platoon.)

Eating my vegetables #3: Bringing Up Baby

January 14, 2010

I must admit, Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby is far from a “vegetables” film, though I knew this going in. This film is just great fun – fast moving broad comedy the likes of which you don’t come across any longer and which has aged just wonderfully seventy years on. The sort of universal comedy, both physical, situational as well as, I gotta say it, some pretty funny and clever puns, is hard to find these days, especially in such a clean and family friendly form. The screwball comedy certainly is not dead, but it seems to me that it’s current incarnation is found in the gross-out films such as those of the Farrelly brothers (I can draw a direct line from this film to There’s Something About Mary) and other such films that tend to rely so much on dick and poo jokes. Not to say that Hawk’s film avoids using laughs of a lower sort (the entire scene of Carey Grant running around the house in a furry bathrobe is an overt laugh drawn from Grant’s being the epitome of heterosexual masculinity thrown together with a broad stereotype of gay men) but it generally finds it’s humor in the chemistry of the two leads. This film is just a treat the whole way through and, as I mentioned, quite tightly woven and very quickly moving. Can’t say much more for a wonderful comedy classic: it certainly stays in the collection.

Next up, something completely different: Terrence Malick’s Days of HeavenThe Brattle Theatre is showing La Dolce Vita, so this is as good a time as any to catch that, no?

You, the Living

January 14, 2010

I just want to take a moment to suggest to y’all a wonderful film that was just released on DVD in the US: Roy Andersson’s You, the Living. I saw this with my dear friends James and Donna while James and I were visiting Donna in Cambridge England almost two years ago. It was playing at the local art house and we chose to see it over another great film, Happy Go Lucky. Lucky for us as Andersson’s did not receive even more than a very token limited release in the US. This film is a wonderful, hillarious, black and surreal piece set in a Swedish town outlining the existential angst of the town’s inhabitants, from a girl with a fantasy rock-star crush, a fat woman and her boyfriend, a man who is executed for breaking a china set while trying to pull off the “tablecloth trick,” and many other idiosyncratic characters and their both real life and fantastically imaginative traumas, both large and small.

The film’s style is one of the most unique I’ve ever encountered with all of the actors playing their roles in an absolutely deadpan, often almost drugged and dejected manner (something about it sort of reminds me of the style of Hal Hartley’s films wherein there are no punchlines or classic comedic acting or line readings but the comedy comes through all the more clearly for it.) I cannot recommend this film enough and, now that it is finally out on DVD, everyone should go out and rent it. It will soon be a welcome and much loved addition to my film library.

Eating my vegetables #2: Elevator to the Gallows

January 11, 2010

Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows is a twisty thriller driven by one unfortunate coincidence after another. Maurice Ronet is Julien, an ex legionairre working for an arms dealer and Jeanne Moreau (in her first role) is Florence, his boss with whom Julien has been having an affair. The two agree to murder Florence’s husband, cover it up, and run away together and all goes well until Julien leaves behind one of his muderous tools and must go back to the office where he is then trapped in the elevator for the night.

This mistake results in the second story concerning a free-wheeling young couple, including a juvenile delinquent appearing like a young French version of Marlon Brando, stealing Julien’s car and beginning heir own ill-fated adventure. The final result creates a rare paradox for such a perfect crime: mistaken identify that results in you being on the hook for an even larger crime that you didn’t even commit!

Really groovy score by Miles Davis is a real highlight of this film, especially the cooled-out jazz that underscored Jeanne Moreau’s character’s despondent walk through the streets of Paris in a thunder storm, desperately searching for her missing lover. And the lighting of many scenes was quite striking, with Moreau lit by the streetlights and neon signs of the bars and the later scene wherein the police question Julien in a room lit only from directly above the table with no indication of exactly where they are – similar to many scenes from stage plays that I have seen where such lighting and lack of scenery or staging indicates a very claustrophobic setting.

I noted that the scenes of Julien’s attempts to escape from the stopped elevator have much a similar feel as that felt in A Man Escaped, Robert Bresson’s high tension prison break film of the previous year, and, dare I say it, perhaps served as an influence in the creation of the excellent elevator scene in Die Hard. Call me crazy but that’s what immediately sprang to mind.

A strange aspect of this film is that the two co-conspirator/lover characters are never shown on screen together and never meet during the film, causing their affair to come off less as a legitimate plot point than as a mere maguffin.

Something else that really stuck out to me was the absolute cold-blooded-ness of the murders in the film. The killers, both clearly amateurs who, one would guess, are haven’t killed before, don’t seem to even get any sort of adrenaline rush from what they’ve done and are able to sort of just brush off the act itself once it is committed. It’s like murder is no more taxing on one’s conscience than skipping out on the bill at a restaurant. I’m not sure if this is just my more modern sensibilities or an intentional choice by Malle in his direction, but it did strike me as a bit strange. Nonetheless, this was a tight and enjoyable film and will remain in my library.

Next up: Howard Hawks’ screwball classic Bringing up Baby.

Netflix rentals outline the deep cultural divisions in my city (and America)

January 10, 2010

This tool provided by the New York Times outlining the Netflix rental habits of 12 metro areas is just fascinating, though not surprising.

The heavily black areas of Boston, my city, such as Dorchester and Mattapan have very high rates of Tyler Perry film rental.

The rich, white old people suburbs of Boston (Newton, Concord, Wellesley, etc) especially like Julie and Julia, Frost/Nixon and other such middle-brow, boomer-bait titles.

The heavily student/hipster areas especially like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Role Models.

Nobody in the areas that have the highest percentage of college-educated people (which can be done by using the maps found here) are renting Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

And, while pretty much everybody in Boston, NYC, DC and California seem to love Milk, it’s not going over so well in the heart of Red State America city: Dallas.

Birds of a feather, right?