Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sundance shorts, part two: The last word for 2007

Below are the animated films at Last week's festival.

Bobby Bird: The Devil in Denim
Directed by Carson Mell
TRT 7:00/DVD/Color

Using extremely limited animation and the “Clutch Cargo Mouth Technique”, Bobby Bird explains how he got his many tattoos. Somewhat interesting, it begins to drag after about three minutes, which is extremely quick, all told.

Destiny Manifesto
Directed by Martha Colburn
TRT 9:00/DVD/Color

What claims to be an exploration between the visual and psychological parallels between the American western frontier and the conflict in the Middle East, is in fact a clueless attack on the United States and everything it stands for. Following what stands in for a plot, America and Americans are evil and all they bring are suffering and death. It’s actually rather gross, in a creative sort of way, with paintings on cut out paintings of the old west and Iraq.

The sort of political mush which is so popular at the moment.

Duct Tape and Cover
Directed by Gene Park
TRT 4:00/DVD/Color

What’s supposed to be a satirical response to the Department of Homeland Security's recent advice for Americans to ready themselves for possible chemical and biological warfare, it is in fact far too late for the humor to work. It’s a willful misunderstanding of the original advisory, and while the animation is excellent, this is about as unfunny as you can get. The use of the notorious “Duck and Cover” propaganda film made by the government back in 1951 makes false comparisons.

More political mush, something I’m afraid we’ll see a lot more of.

Golden Age
Directed by Aaron Augenblick
TRT 10:00/DVD/Color

A compellation of episodes from the Comedy Central Web series by the creator of “Wondershowzen.” Some of the “skits” are actually rather good, and others are merely pointless. That’s what happens when you have a brilliant pitch and subsequently run out of ideas. Still it’s mostly funny.

How She Slept At Night
Directed by Lilli Carre
TRT 4:00/DVD/Color

This is about a man’s recollections of his wife, whom he seems to have begun to forget. Like the narrator’s faulty memory, the film is a bit of nothing with an air of sadness to it. The stylization is an interesting touch, and reminds one of the work of Lynda Barry.

One Rat Short
Directed by Alex Weil
TRT 10:00/HD Cam/Color

A subway rat is led by the mesmerizing ballet of a discarded bag of crunchy cheese product into an adventure of love and loss on a dark Manhattan night, in which he fights an evil robot and almost finds happiness. This was far more effecting than I imagined. The computer animation approaches the Pixar/Dreamworks level. This may actually be short listed for next year’s Oscars.

Phantom Canyon
Directed by Stacey Steers
TRT 10:00/HDCam/Color

A curious woman encounters enormous insects and Batman (the other one) in a pivotal journey through the mind of someone very much like Terry Gilliam. The use of antique engravings is very much like the interstitals from the old Monty Python series. The film is actually interesting in spots, although the sound was kind of wonky.

The Light Surgeons Present: In Passing
Directed by Christopher Thomas Allen & Robert Rainbow
TRT 6:00/DVD/Color

Jo Welborn, who’s around 90% blind explains her life and how she experiences things, in an exploration of the psycho-geography of Manchester, England, using computer graphics to simulate blindness and allow the seeing to share in this experience.

It’s actually extremely effective, and despite the banality, rather moving. It’s sad that it didn’t win any awards.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Slamdance: The rest of the features

We end our visit to Slamdance with a final group of reviews. Hopefully next year, we'll actually have no troubles at the other film festival.

The King of Kong

A documentary by
Seth Gordon and
Ed Cunningham

The biggest problem in making a documentary is editing. Sometimes the filmmaker has literally hundreds of hours of shooting to work with and cutting it down to an hour or two is really hard work. That was the problem that Seth Gordon faced when he had finally decided it was time to get out that old movieola. After the tedious viewing of hours and hours of footage, Gordon and his coworkers discovered that some of the celphone conversations recorded by his cameramen in New Hampshire and Florida——MATCHED. This changed everything.

This meant that full scenes could be pieced together and the two separate stories told could be told as one. This was very fortuitous, and why this could be the biggest film to ever come out of the Slamdance film festival. Which is strange considering what it’s about: Donkey Kong.

Now I’m not a fan of video games. Well, that’s partly because I was never very good at them. I never actually got past the third level of Ms. Pac Man and couldn’t get past the second level of Donkey Kong. So when you had those mega-gigabyte monstrosities, I never even thought about checking them out. But there are lots of people who have, and one of the surprises is that the “classics” from the 1980s are still being played. Donkey Kong I? When they have Super-Mario conquers the Universe 23? It boggles the mind.

This is about grownups. The two foci of the film, Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, are both married and have children. They are also in their 40s and should be beyond this sort of thing. But no. This is a kind of triviality, which brings out the worst in people, and as Weibe’s daughter so eloquently puts it, “people have ruined their lives trying to get into the Guiness Book of World Records.”

It’s all about the book. When he was a kid, Mitchell had scored 800 thousand on Donkey Kong and the record had stood for decades. Then a few years ago, Wiebe, who had bought an old machine, broke a million. He video taped it and sent it into Twin Galaxies, the official referee agency for things like that, and it was verified, for a short time. Then they sent a couple of people to break into Wiebe’s house and tore up the machine to see if he was cheating. All hell breaks loose and Wiebe demands a chance at redemption. Walter Day, owner of Twin Galaxies and lord high scorekeeper in the world of classic video games, tells him to go to the Funspot Family Fun Ctr. in Weirs Beach, NH, which is THE place to do such things officially, and prove himself in public.

This is the stuff of high drama, and there’s skullduggery, backstabbing, and all sorts of nastiness. While being arrogant is to be expected at the very top of any sport, Mitchell’s fight to keep his record is down and dirty, and he’s clearly the villain here. This is a classic story told in a classic way, and really exiting. It’s well earned its theatrical release.

Darius Films

Directed by
Allan Moyle

Recently, there was a major motion picture called “Déjà vu.” It was a science fiction action flick about time travel. This has nothing to do with the flick in question. However this film DID remind me of the title, because I definitely had a major case of it while watching.

“Déjà vu” is when you feel you’ve been someplace or seen something before when it’s clear that you haven’t. I could have sworn that I’ve seen bits and pieces of this film before SOMEWHERE, but it’s quite clear that Willem Wennekers’ screenplay is entirely original, and just feels like a retread. Consider…

Dexter(Scott Speedman) and Royce(Wes Bentley) are stoners living in the Canadian north. The film starts with them being threatened, but we immediately flash back to three days before, where they and Royce’s girlfriend Matilda(Taryn Manning) are about to rob the mansion of comatose millionaire Jason Taylor(Matt Frewer), but can’t get themselves to do it. The reason they are considering such action is that Dexter owes local bad guy Omar(Raoul Bhaneja) over a grand, but Omar has an idea. Our heroes can take sell some of Omar’s stash and make back the debt that way. But since they’re stoners, Royce and Matilda snort it all, and the latter appears to be dead. This kind of sounds like a Cheech and Chong movie doesn’t it?

So obviously, they can’t call the cops, and are going to bury her in the basement of the local bijou, but at that exact time, a bunch of local Satanists(Greg Bryk, Maggie Castle and Dax Ravina) holding a human sacrifice, and since this goes awry and Matilda revives, and some mystical energy has been misplaced, the usual silly chase around town takes place, including trips back to the mansion and the mall, where there’s a altercation with a diminutive security guard(Jordan Prentice). Everything’s so obvious that we think we’ve seen this before dozens of times.

Yes, parts of it are actually funny, and there are plenty of giggles throughout, but everything seems like it was done paint-by-numbers. This is a bit of a waste, unless you’re wasted. Which, I guess is why the Canadian government invested the people’s hard earned tax dollars on it.
You Are Here

Written and Directed
by Henry Pincus

Fantasies don’t always have to do with elves, fairies, whips and chains, sometimes they have to do with shiny happy people living shiny happy lives. Sure they have problems, but these are problems most of us people would love to have. So Henry Pincus, who has managed to get financing for a silly, disposable script, has also managed to get a halfway decent cast of twentysomethings who’ve been mucking around the bottom of the middle of the Hollywood pecking order to do the obligatory indie film which will pay the rent for a couple of months while they search for that big break and put their private lives in the tabloids.

Ryan (Patrick Flueger) awakes in Apple’s (Katie Cassidy) bed. This freaks him out because he though that he was going to do that with his unrequited love Cassie (Lauren German). So he calls his pal Mick (Adam Campbell) and recounts the whole sordid mess. Apparently Ryan is a DJ at a local LA club, and as he was not cad enough a couple of nights before, his relationship with Cassie has been a bit on the rocks. But of course Apple and Amber (Amber Heard) want to get into his pants too, and there are the usual sitcom complications.

Soon after Ryan has recounted his “night in clubbie hell”, Mick receives another phone call. This time, it’s Cassie’s pal Aubrey(Bijou Phillips), who recounts many of the same events previously described. Soon, we have everyone in the(Chris Lowell, Theo Nicholas Pagones and a couple of others I kind of forget), except the fifty-something gangster type(Michael Biehn), also recount the night’s events. There is faux danger having to do with debt and designer drugs, but it’s still shiny happy people with tiny widdle problems, a pilot for “Friends: The Next Generation.”

What keeps this thing from being a total snorer is the fact that the female cast is hot as molten iron, and the guys are also actually pretty good. In fact, everyone has gotten work since this thing, and this will be one of those films that five years from now, entertainment journalists will show clips of when one of the cast has hit it big on TV. However, this will not actually go anywhere except the bottom of the video bin or cable.


Written and Directed
By Gary Walkow

This is about male fantasy, pure and simple. Richard (Campbell Scott), the noted blocked writer, is thrown out of his palatial California mansion by his gorgeous movie-star wife, and luckily for him, he had been invited to speak to his ex-lover Diane’s (Alex Kingston) writing class at some LA college. When his plight is made known, two beauteous students, who are also roommates, named Kristen (Izabella Miko) and Jacqueline (Lizzy Caplan), invite our hero to crash at their pad for a while, and he takes them up on it. Male fantasy, pure and simple, what guy wouldn’t want to be in that situation?

So Richard moves in and begins investigating the private lives of his hostesses, checking out the contents of their desks and computers, what’s in their drawers and the like, and while he offers to pay them rent, all they want is for him to give them private writing lessons, something he readily agrees to. It’s all very autobiographical, as auteur Walkow has Richard discuss a previous work of his ad infinitum. Since this is not a short, we get to watch the two hotties discuss literary analysis and story structure before Richard finally gets each of them in bed. In fact he describes it as just the fantasy he was talking about.

The acting is good, however the script is entirely predictable. Richard gets exactly what he wants out of every situation, although he's intellectual enough to keep from looking like a tired old letch. Good for him. This is one of those independent films that thespians do to pay the rent and get some "intellectual" credits between TV guest appearances and Horror movies. This is going to wind up on an obscure cable channel and never be seen again.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Slamdance: The animated short competition

After a while of getting other stuff done, I've decided to finish up with my coverage of Slamdance, so here is the animated shorts competition. I'm not sure who won.

Africa Parting

Directed and Written
by Robyn Yannoukos
and Brian LoSchiavo

An African mask creature with a heart beating inside in it’s birdcage body, examines a scrapbook on apartheid and throws a hissyfit before committing suicide. The stop motion artwork is actually rather good, but what it all means is obscure.

The Ballad of Mary Slade

Directed and Written
By Robin Fuller

The worms go in the worms go out….and discuss the demise of the corpse that they’re consuming. The use of photographs on the computer animated insects is particularly creepy and entirely appropriate.

This is one of the better shorts.

Close Your Eyes and Do Not Breathe

Directed and Written
by Vuk Jevremovic

An unnamed hero is taken aloft by an angel, who gives him a tour of other worlds, in this beautifully drawn animated painting. Exactly what is meant by this film is obscure, but then it was made in eastern Europe, and obscure is part of the culture.

Cranium Theater

Directed and Written
by Jason Sandri

This is about death and taxes. A farmer puts his heart and soul into a project, and the government and church take it away. Kind of cute and very predictable. Nice character design though.


Directed and Written
By Martin Quaden

A battery-powered device falls in love with a lamppost and this leads to problems. This is a very sad film, and is pretty amazing what emotion can be wrung out of a bunch of used junk.

Infinite Justice

Directed and Written
By Karl Tebbe

How to protest the War in Iraq and mourn for the tyranny of Saddam Houssein? Why use action figures and limited stop motion animation, of course! What this German fellow and his friends did was use a commemerative doll and a bunch of GI Joes to recreate some not so nice photographs of the unpleasantness in the former Mesopotamia. This is the closest any of the animated shorts presented here have come to outright failure.

Kuro Kumo

Directed and Written
By a certain Mr. Norton

Nomura is haunted by dreams of a ronin (masterless samurai) that she believes is her past life, so she goes to her shrink, and tries to figure out how to stop this This was an experiment using new animation technology, and is quite good to a point, but why, since this was done in America, did they do the dialogue in Japanese with English subtitles?

Latent Sorrow

Directed and Written
by Shon Kim

Animation takes a lot of work, and months and months of doodling can wind up being something far more than just playing around. However, this is not exactly the case here. Some nice imagery but nothing profound at all.


Directed and Written
By Scott Kravitz

What does the Angel of Death do when she’s not working? This film tries to explain. The answer is quite surprising, and has something to do with the title of the film. For what it’s worth, this is actually quite interesting.

Matière / Material

Directed and Written
by Boran Richard

Liquid drips to the center of gravity and Richard plays with various shapes, both human and object. This is art for art’s sake kind of stuff, and makes the viewer wonder what’s going on, and apparently nothing does except for cinematic mastribation. Still, the imagery is nice.

Oneheadword Protection

Directed and Written by
Igor and Ivan Buharov

This isn’t actually animated, but rather pixilated, with men in costumes running around while an off screen persona informs the population about the onset of war with an unknown enemy from another planet. This is one of those incomprehensible Slavic experiments in cinema that play the festival circuit sometimes. Weirdness for weirdness’ sake. Eh.

Printed Rainbow

Directed and written
By Gitanjali Rao

This is the most beautiful film at the Slamdance animation competition. A woman who lives in a black and white housing complex has a matchbook collection, which she uses to aid her candy colored dreams. This is whimsical, very cute and possibly the best of the animation comptetition.


Directed and written
By Mark Zero Lastimosa

A gory version of “Groundhog Day,” the eponymous hero must relieve the horror of the breakup with his girlfriend every time the phone rings, which it incessantly does. This causes him to try to commit suicide again and again. A bloody mess, which is mostly unenlightening.

Ujbaz Izbeneki Has Lost His Soul

Directed and co-written
by Neil Jack

This is an illustrated joke. The Devil has an appointment with the title character who has a prescient for losing things and all Hell gets lost.

This is actually rather funny, especially with the voice performances. The plot is original and actually feels like a cartoon.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Oscar nominees: Color Commentary

Okay, folks, it's that time of the year again, and now, I will fearlessly predict who's going to get what. Again, I will make life easier for everyone by color coding the list thusly:

Will win!
Has an excellent chance.
Has some chance.
Getting nominated is an honor in itself, right?
The acadamy should be ashaimed of itself.

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Leonardo DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond” (Warner Bros.)

Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson” (THINKFilm)

Peter O’Toole in “Venus” (Miramax, Filmfour and UK Council)

Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness” (Sony Pictures Releasing)

Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland” (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Alan Arkin in “Little Miss Sunshine” (Fox Searchlight)

Jackie Earle Haley in “Little Children” (New Line)

Djimon Hounsou in “Blood Diamond” (Warner Bros.)

Eddie Murphy in “Dreamgirls” (DreamWorks and Paramount)

Mark Wahlberg in “The Departed” (Warner Bros.)

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Penélope Cruz in “Volver” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Judi Dench in “Notes on a Scandal” (Fox Searchlight)

Helen Mirren in “The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada)

Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” (20th Century Fox)

Kate Winslet in “Little Children” (New Line)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Adriana Barraza in “Babel” (Paramount and Paramount Vantage)

Cate Blanchett in “Notes on a Scandal” (Fox Searchlight)

Abigail Breslin in “Little Miss Sunshine” (Fox Searchlight)

Jennifer Hudson in “Dreamgirls” (DreamWorks and Paramount)

Rinko Kikuchi in “Babel” (Paramount and Paramount Vantage)

Best animated feature film of the year

Cars” (Buena Vista) John Lasseter

Happy Feet” (Warner Bros.) George Miller

Monster House” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Gil Kenan

Achievement in art direction

Dreamgirls” (DreamWorks and Paramount)
Art Direction: John Myhre
Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

The Good Shepherd” (Universal)
Art Direction: Jeannine Oppewall
Set Decoration: Gretchen Rau and Leslie E. Rollins

Pan’s Labyrinth” (Picturehouse)
Art Direction: Eugenio Caballero
Set Decoration: Pilar Revuelta

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (Buena Vista)
Art Direction: Rick Heinrichs
Set Decoration: Cheryl A. Carasik

The Prestige” (Buena Vista)
Art Direction: Nathan Crowley
Set Decoration: Julie Ochipinti

Achievement in cinematography

The Black Dahlia” (Universal) Vilmos Zsigmond

Children of Men” (Universal) Emmanuel Lubezki

The Illusionist” (Yari Film Group) Dick Pope

Pan’s Labyrinth” (Picturehouse) Guillermo Navarro

The Prestige” (Buena Vista) Wally Pfister

Achievement in costume design

Curse of the Golden Flower” (Sony Pictures Classics) Yee Chung Man

The Devil Wears Prada” (20th Century Fox) Patricia Field

Dreamgirls” (DreamWorks and Paramount) Sharen Davis

Marie Antoinette” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Milena Canonero

The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada) Consolata Boyle

Achievement in directing

Babel (Paramount and Paramount Vantage) Alejandro González Iñárritu

The Departed” (Warner Bros.) Martin Scorsese

Letters from Iwo Jima” (Warner Bros.) Clint Eastwood

The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada) Stephen Frears

United 93” (Universal and StudioCanal) Paul Greengrass

Best documentary feature

Deliver Us from Evil” (Lionsgate)
A Disarming Films Production
Amy Berg and Frank Donner

An Inconvenient Truth” (Paramount Classics and Participant Productions)
A Lawrence Bender/Laurie David Production
Davis Guggenheim

Iraq in Fragments” (Typecast Releasing)
A Typecast Pictures/Daylight Factory Production
James Longley and John Sinno

Jesus Camp” (Magnolia Pictures)
A Loki Films Production
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

My Country, My Country” (Zeitgeist Films)
A Praxis Films Production
Laura Poitras and Jocelyn Glatzer

Best documentary short subject

The Blood of Yingzhou District
A Thomas Lennon Films Production
Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

Recycled Life
An Iwerks/Glad Production
Leslie Iwerks and Mike Glad

Rehearsing a Dream
A Simon & Goodman Picture Company Production
Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon

Two Hands
A Crazy Boat Pictures Production
Nathaniel Kahn and Susan Rose Behr

Achievement in film editing

Babel” (Paramount and Paramount Vantage)
Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise

Blood Diamond” (Warner Bros.)
Steven Rosenblum

Children of Men” (Universal)
Alex Rodríguez and Alfonso Cuarón

The Departed” (Warner Bros.)
Thelma Schoonmaker

United 93” (Universal and StudioCanal)
Clare Douglas, Christopher Rouse and Richard Pearson

Best foreign language film of the year

After the Wedding” A Zentropa Entertainments 16 Production

Days of Glory (Indigènes)” A Tessalit Production

The Lives of Others” A Wiedemann & Berg Production

Pan’s Labyrinth” A Tequila Gang/Esperanto Filmoj/Estudios Picasso Production

Water A Hamilton-Mehta Production

Achievement in makeup

Apocalypto” (Buena Vista) Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano

Click” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Kazuhiro Tsuji and Bill Corso

Pan’s Labyrinth” (Picturehouse) David Marti and Montse Ribe

Achievement in music written for motion pictures
(Original score)

Babel” (Paramount and Paramount Vantage) Gustavo Santaolalla

The Good German” (Warner Bros.) Thomas Newman

Notes on a Scandal” (Fox Searchlight) Philip Glass

Pan’s Labyrinth” (Picturehouse) Javier Navarrete

The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada) Alexandre Desplat

Achievement in music written for motion pictures
(Original song)

I Need to Wake Up” from “An Inconvenient Truth”
(Paramount Classics and Participant Productions)
Music and Lyric by Melissa Etheridge

Listenfrom “Dreamgirls”
(DreamWorks and Paramount)
Music by Henry Krieger and Scott Cutler
Lyric by Anne Preven

Love You I Do from “Dreamgirls”
(DreamWorks and Paramount)
Music by Henry Krieger
Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Our Town from “Cars”
(Buena Vista)
Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Patience from “Dreamgirls”
(DreamWorks and Paramount)
Music by Henry Krieger
Lyric by Willie Reale

Best motion picture of the year

Babel (Paramount and Paramount Vantage)
An Anonymous Content/Zeta Film/Central Films Production
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Jon Kilik and Steve Golin, Producers

The Departed (Warner Bros.)
A Warner Bros. Pictures Production
Nominees to be determined

Letters from Iwo Jima(Warner Bros.)
A DreamWorks Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures Production
Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz, Producers

Little Miss Sunshine(Fox Searchlight)
A Big Beach/Bona Fide Production
Nominees to be determined

The Queen (Miramax, Pathé and Granada)
A Granada Production
Andy Harries, Christine Langan and Tracey Seaward, Producers

Best animated short film

The Danish Poet” (National Film Board of Canada)
A Mikrofilm and National Film Board of Canada Production
Torill Kove

Lifted” (Buena Vista)
A Pixar Animation Studios Production
Gary Rydstrom

The Little Matchgirl” (Buena Vista)
A Walt Disney Pictures Production
Roger Allers and Don Hahn

Maestro” (Szimplafilm)
A Kedd Production
Geza M. Toth

No Time for Nuts” (20th Century Fox)
A Blue Sky Studios Production
Chris Renaud and Michael Thurmeier

Best live action short film

Binta and the Great Idea (Binta Y La Gran Idea)
A Peliculas Pendelton and Tus Ojos Production
Javier Fesser and Luis Manso

Éramos Pocos (One Too Many)” (Kimuak)
An Altube Filmeak Production
Borja Cobeaga

Helmer & Son
A Nordisk Film Production
Soren Pilmark and Kim Magnusson

The Saviour” (Australian Film Television and Radio School)
An Australian Film Television and Radio School Production
Peter Templeman and Stuart Parkyn

West Bank Story
An Ari Sandel, Pascal Vaguelsy, Amy Kim, Ravi Malhotra and Ashley Jordan Production
Ari Sandel

Achievement in sound editing

Apocalypto” (Buena Vista)
Sean McCormack and Kami Asgar

Blood Diamond” (Warner Bros.)
Lon Bender

Flags of Our Fathers” (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by Paramount)
Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Letters from Iwo Jima” (Warner Bros.)
Alan Robert Murray

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (Buena Vista)
Christopher Boyes and George Watters II

Achievement in sound mixing

Apocalypto (Buena Vista)
Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell and Fernando Camara

Blood Diamond(Warner Bros.)
Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer and Ivan Sharrock

Dreamgirls (DreamWorks and Paramount)
Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer and Willie Burton

Flags of Our Fathers(DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by Paramount)
John Reitz, Dave Campbell, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (Buena Vista)
Paul Massey, Christopher Boyes and Lee Orloff

Achievement in visual effects

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (Buena Vista)
John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall

Poseidon” (Warner Bros.)
Boyd Shermis, Kim Libreri, Chaz Jarrett and John Frazier

Superman Returns” (Warner Bros.)
Mark Stetson, Neil Corbould, Richard R. Hoover and Jon Thum

Adapted screenplay

Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (20th Century Fox)
Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer
Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Peter Baynham & Anthony Hines & Todd Phillips

Children of Men” (Universal)
Screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón & Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby

The Departed” (Warner Bros.)
Screenplay by William Monahan

Little Children” (New Line)
Screenplay by Todd Field & Tom Perrotta

Notes on a Scandal” (Fox Searchlight)
Screenplay by Patrick Marber

Original screenplay

Babel” (Paramount and Paramount Vantage)
Written by Guillermo Arriaga

Letters from Iwo Jima” (Warner Bros.)
Screenplay by Iris Yamashita
Story by Iris Yamashita & Paul Haggis

Little Miss Sunshine” (Fox Searchlight)
Written by Michael Arndt

Pan’s Labyrinth” (Picturehouse)
Written by Guillermo del Toro

The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada)
Written by Peter Morgan

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sundance shorts, part one

There are plenty of shorts being shown at Sundance, and this year they're posting them and you can download a bunch. Here's a few:

Black and White Trypps Number Three
Directed by Ben Russell

A guy with a camera focuses on another guy at a rave. That’s the entire movie. A bunch of people jump up and down and nothing else happens. What a crashing bore. The only thing positive one can say is that it makes the feature after it look somewhat better. This is the worst film of the entire Sundance film festival.


Directed by Ricardo Iscar
& Nacho Martin

The sound was off for most of the screening and nobody really seemed to notice. A bunch of Spanish Fishermen corralled a school of tuna in the open ocean ages ago, and the filmmaker recorded it for posterity. We see the tuna panicking at the surface, and the fishermen hauling them in when they tire out. Like they say about sausages and laws. Not for the feint of heart.


A documentary
by Cynthia Wade

Ocean County (NJ) Police Lieutenant Laurel Hester is dying. The fact that she is gay and has been living with her partner Stacie for years, didn’t really matter one way or another to the people who worked with and for her. However it seem to have mattered to the board of Freeholders of Ocean County, because they decided not to bend the rules a little and when Hester dies, Stacie would be broke and out on the street. This is about a local movement to fight this, because it’s clearly an injustice and nobody actually is defending this action except for one guy on religious principles.

So we have interviews with Laurel and Stacy, some friends and local journalists, and it seems a clear cut case of discrimination. None of the Freeholders would interview the filmmaker, and although we see them at public meetings, we don’t hear their side of the story.

It all ends happily when the Governor intervenes. The thing is workmanlike and well made, and is one of the few short docs that actually has a story to tell.

God Provides

Directed by Brian Cassidy
and Melanie Shatzky

A tour of Post Katrina New Orleans, we see a preacher taking photos to show what God’s wrath is like and a bunch of other people just getting on with their lives. Not as bad as it sounds, although rather boring for the most part.

Master of Reality

Directed by
Matthew Killip

One of those films that are just a bunch of home movies being edited together and somehow manages to get into a festival. This is not really good or interesting. The filmmake tells the story of Ronny Long, who likes horror flicks and is a big wrestling fan. He got in the news by hurting himself when he was a kid. This is actually rather boring.

To Whom It May Concern

Directed by
Mitch McCabe

A woman films herself taking photos of herself over a period of several years. For the film, she purchased some film of the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2004 Republican convention. Her boyfriend edited it and parts of it are actually funny.

More Sundance, and some Slamdance

I'm lucky to be alive. On the way back from the festival, my plane almost had a headon collision. We felt the turbulence, but since it was dark out, we didn't see the plane. I spent a couple of hours in Texas in between flights, and that was actually very uninformative.

There's a bunch of shorts from Sundance I'm still working on , and a about four features from Slamdance. But in the meantime, here's some more reviews:

Samson Films 88 mins.TBA

Written and Directed
by John Carney

An Irish busker(Glen Hansard) is playing is music on a street somewhere in Dublin. Here, after an altercation with a fiend who steals his hard earned swag, meets a Czech woman(Marketa Irglova), with whom he has an interesting conversation, followed by the usual romance. He sings to her and she listens, it turns out that she loves to play the piano, although she’s too poor to have one, selling flowers in the street and having to take care of her widowed mother and kid and all. They sing to each other and lo and behold! You have a delightful little musical.

This is more an extended music video than a recreation of a Broadway blockbuster. The simple story is enhanced by the music, most of which is done Hansard on his busted guitar. It turns out that Hansard and Irgova have been working together in real life for years, so the affection seen is genuine and much of the banter is improvised. There are some secondary characters, but for they don’t actually do much of anything, so we’re left with a just the two Hansard and Irgova chastely making love and music on the screen. It’s amazing how something so slight can be so entertaining.

Whether or not this is going to get a theatrical release is questionable, but if it comes out on cable or DVD, it’s well worth a look.

Fox Searchlight 113 MIN, R

Written and Directed
by Tamara Jenkins

Dark comedy is a very tricky thing, especially if it isn’t done as a live-action cartoon. This isn’t that by any means, and the best part is that it works. This is one of the funniest films about dying of old age that’s been made in years and years.

Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) is living with his longtime girlfriend Doris in the famous Sun City retirement community, when an altercation with her caregiver leads to problems. Thus, after years of estrangement, their father returns into the lives of his grown children Wendy(Laura Linney) and Jon(Philip Seymour Hoffman). Hilarity ensues. No, seriously.

Wendy is a playwright living in the East Village section of Manhattan, who uses her time temping to send out grant applications. She’s having an affair with her landlord(Peter Friedman) . Jon is a professor at SUNY Buffalo, where he teaches a course of Bertolt Brecht, is writing a book on the subject, and breaking up with his girlfriend(Cara Seymour), who’s visa is about to expire. But Doris’ death leads to an eviction and Jon and Wendy have their lives upended. This is about what happens when the parent becomes the child and vice versa. It’s something that pretty much everyone over a certain age can identify with.

The acting, as one might expect with a cast this prestigious, is excellent, and Hoffmann and Linney have great chemistry together. But it is Bosco, who‘s done almost exclusvily live theater in the past, who steals the movie, he’s both brilliant and pathetic as the old man who’s losing both his marbles and his life. The supporting cast is also fine, with Friedman giving a nuanced and funny performance, and Gbenga Akinnagbe shines in a small part as a caregiver at the nursing home where John and Wendy have put their father. But it’s the sharp writing by Jenkins, who hasn’t done anything of note since “The Slums of Beverly Hills”, which turns this from a mere movie-of-the-week to something so much more.

U.S.A., 2006, 88 Minutes

Written and Directed
by Michael Belmont

This is the revenge of YouTube. Michael Belmont, using the pseudonym
M dot Strange, made a feature film in his tiny apartment (no basement), and put bits and pieces on the site, which over the months have, for some reason that I cannot fathom, created a rather large following. The film was recommended to me and I actually had to pay to get into the second screening at Sundance (there was no press screening).

If they gave out a booby prize at Sundance, this would definitely win hands down. The “We Are the Strange” is indeed terrible. Not bad, terrible. There’s a difference. Bad can be watchable. This is not. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have to write a review for this thing and the only way to do so is to see the entire film, I would have walked out like pretty much everyone else. This is a film, although it shows imagination and a kind of technical know-how, is down there in “Plan 9 From Outer Space
territory. I’m serious. This is the kind of thing which would provoke violence toward the film-maker. Belmont’s life might be in danger.

This is an action figure movie. I say that because I’m somewhat older and boys aren’t supposed to play with dolls. What we have is a child’s nightmare. The nightmare is that children cannot tell jokes properly until they have at least reached eleven or twelve, and this plays like a joke told by a five-year old. This has almost no plot, no humor, no characters that have the least bit of personality, just badly done artifice.

What there is of a plot has to do with an anime beauty named Blue, who is sent out into the woods by the villain, a thing that goes around saying “Beware: I live!” and can split into two beings, and a doll called M who can’t talk and wants ice cream. It ends with a titanic battle of giant robots, but by the time that point is reached, over an hour of childish rambling has taken place. Not childlike, childish. Like the four year old telling a joke, this is just annoying and pointless. (and parents, if you little one is actually a talented comedian, that’s cool, but those are as rare as hens teeth.). Don’t waste your money.

The Ballad of AJ Weberman
UK, 2007 80 min / Color NR

A Documentary Directed by
James Bluemel and Oliver Ralfe

I came into this film with no expectations. It was supposed to be about a guy who was, to be blunt about it, was Bob Dylan’s official stalker back in the late 1960s and early ’70. Might be an interesting film, I thought. It was, but not just for the reasons I went into the film for.

My movie reviews are not supposed to be about me. Well, to a small extent perhaps, it’s MY opinions after all, but this was different. 99,999 times out of ten thousand the film is not about me, or the reader. Sure there are plenty of films with which the viewer can identify, docs with famous people or people in trouble in ways that they can imagine themselves in. That’s the glory of cinema, after all.

But this, was different. The filmmakers were interviewing Weberman at the place he was crashing. A Sheepshead Bay apartment of a guy named Jay Byrd. Jay BYRD? Oh shit. That Jay Byrd? They showed Byrd’s face. Yeah, it was him, Jeez!

Now I’m pretty sure the reader has probably not have heard of this fellow. He’s a rather obscure folksinger who never had much of a following. However, he and I went out with the same woman at the same time back in the day. A beauty named Paulette Shainer, who I was madly in love with for many years. This wasn’t an unrequited love. Well, not for much of it, but as I faded out Byrd faded in, and after a while we lost touch. It’s a typical story everyone lives through at sometime in their lives. But seeing someone on the sliver screen that one hasn’t seen in the better part of a decade all of a sudden is rather jarring. Suddenly there was a suspense I’m pretty sure nobody else in the world would feel watching this movie. Will Paulette show up? I waited with baited breath. There she was. It seemed she had botox treatments or something, and looks far better than when I saw her last in real life.

There were interviews with Aaron Kay and David Peel, both of whom I knew back in the day. This wasn’t about ME, obviously, I hadn’t been there at the time most of the events discussed took place, but still, the times I WAS there came back out of my unconscious and hit me like a ton of bricks. The attack of déjà vu soon dissipated and I was able to get back into the movie.

Like many of us who hung out around Washington Square Park, Weberman [remember him?] was hanging around the fringes of fame. He got a lot closer than many, actually having met many rock’n’roll heroes while doing his research on his obsession, Bob Dylan, a person, who Weberman actually knew and was somewhat friendly for a while. They would talk on the phone and recorded telephone conversation between the two punctuates the film in the form of animated cartoons, which is all of a sudden a hot way of illustrating audiotapes (it’s much more fun to look at than a reel-to-reel tape recorder or an iPOD.) Of course, it becomes clear that they soon didn’t like each other very much, and that Weberman dedicated much of his life from the late 1960s and early ‘70s to ruin Dylan’s life, which ended up with an interesting confrontation, which Weberman admits was deserved.

Even if you haven’t a clue as to whom any of these people are, this may be worth a look.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Why I hate Park City

IN order to properly do a film festival you have to have the proper frame of mind. I wasn’t in the proper frame of mine, and it was all the fault of the people of Sundance.

Yeah, I have a chip on my shoulder, I did everything I was supposed to do, and was asked to GO this year, they were positive, and they were sending me all the spam they could. Invitations to a whole bunch of screenings were sent out, and this was after they also told me that my application hadn’t been accepted. This is taunting. They told me, no, they didn’t tall me. They usually don’t even send rejections unless people ask why, and they do it really late, late enough that local hotels make lots of money by refusing to give refunds when FULLY PREPAID reservations are made. Few hotels, anywhere in the world do that, but the Chateau Apres Lodge, which has a dormitory (one of the most expensive youth hostels in the country, but the cheap compared with everything else) has made sure that if something happens a month before you show up, then you’re out hundreds of bucks. That’s why I came, to get some value out of this money.

When Sundance comes to town, the prices quadruple in Park City. A small town with beautiful scenery, and a number of picturesque neighborhoods. I hate the place. It’s not the locals who are particularly obnoxious, but the people who arrive to work at the festival. The state of Utah is very anti-booze and bars are only allowed at private clubs, which charge five bucks “membership fee” to all the tourists who want to get a bite to eat, the rest are permanent “private parties”. We hoi polloi, a position that I now fill, aren’t welcome. Well, we’re welcome on the streets, where crowds of curious tourists crowd around doors where corporate sponsors make sure that the famous are fawned over and properly paid with swag. I got a baseball cap and all the Red Bull I can drink. Whoopie! Better than nothing I guess.

However, the people at Sundance have been dicking around the publicist as well as the public. Most of the publicists are hard working, very nice people, However one (a Canadian) invited me to a screening and when I showed up, there was no ticket. He forgot to inform me. Oops. This happens a lot at Sundance.

This doesn’t mean that everyone treats you like dirt. No, in fact most of the people who aren’t paid to be mean are anyway. The lower a person is on the totem pole is probably nicer than those at the top, something that isn’t always the case elsewhere.

The ticketing for the films is somewhat bizarre. If you are trying to get into a sold out screening (in Sundance, EVERYTHING is sold out in advance) it’s best just to show up when the film starts and there’s an excellent chance that you’ll get in via the waitlist. I tried it that way three times and got in every time. Still, it’s iffy, and if you don’t want to wait hours in the freezing cold, then it’s the only real option.

Slamdance is only in one place, but they’re really packed too. The other counter festivals Xdance and something else I don’t remember the name of, were totally empty. That means the only options are going skiing, which is very expensive, or eating at one of those resturaunts you have to wait days to get into. I should have stayed home.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sundance the second batch

The Sundance film festival has begun and I'm totally pissed off (more on that later.) There are two opening galas: one in Salt Lake city and one in Park City. We begin this batch with those:

River Road Entertainment
95mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Brett Morgen

This is something really strange, an animated documentary. Brett Morgan, who directed “The Kid Stays in the Picture” came up with an interesting idea, use archive footage, when possible, and two different styles of animation when such footage is unavailable. The effect actually works, and is reminiscent of some of the recent work of Richard Linklater. What it does is successfully recreate the chaos of 1968 and the farce of the trial that followed.

In the late fall of 1967, a group of left-wing activists decided to protest the Vietnam war by holding a “non-violent” direct action at the National Democratic convention the following August. Never has something gone so wrong and backfired so spectacularly, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Ruben, et al., gave us Nixon, Watergate, five more years of Vietnam, the Cambodian genocide, not to mention millions refugees. Of course, these were the good guys.

The film begins with archive footage of Lyndon Johnson giving a speech on the escalation of the Vietnam war, and Mayor Daley of Chicago announcing that his city was going to host the Convention and everything would be joy and fun. Yeah, right.

We then go to the court room, where Judge Julius Hoffman(voice Roy Scheider) calls to order the farce of the century. The defendants are eight men: Bobby Seale(Jeffrey Wright) Jerry Rubin(Mark Ruffalo), Abbie Hoffman(Hank Azaria), David Dellinger(Dylan Baker), John Froines(James Urbaniak), Lee Weiner (Chuck Montgomery), Tom Haden(Reg Rogers), and Rennie Davis(), who were accused of conspiring to start the riots that pretty much destroyed the Democratic party and gave us six years of Nixon. They were represented by William Kunstler (Liev Schreiber) and Leonard Weinglass(Himself), who are the other two numbered in the title.

The prosecutor, Thomas Foran(Nick Nolte), had a strong case against the defendants, but not on the charges being tried. The Judge appeared to be senile and declined to have a fair trial, which led to gentle retaliation by the defendants and the whole thing devolved into a circus.

Morgen and his crew at Curius pictures then go back and forth between the archival stuff, which is mostly from the convention itself, and the “Chicago 8's” many personal appearances (they had to pay the lawyers somehow) during the trial, and the animated sequences. The whole thing actually works, and this is actually very educational. Disney it ain't.

Away from Her
Lionsgate, 110mins, TBA

Written and directed
by Sarah Polley

The term senility is now deemed pejorative for some reason, and the condition is now called “Alzheimer's.” But that doesn't change anything. It still robs the mind of itself, and the wasting away of the victim is hard to watch whatever it's called. This expansion of Alice Munro's short story, The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” makes this quite plain.

Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona Anderson(Julie Christie) have been married for decades and are still in love. Unfortunately, the early signs of Alzheimer's has set in, and Fiona knows that eventually she has to be sent away to a nursing home, and so does Grant, who fears the possibility far more than his wife.

The place, is in fact, very nice, as are the administrator(Kristen Thompson) and head nurse(Wendy Crewson). The problem is that there's a no visitors for the first 30 Days rule” and at the end of that time, she's forgotten all about him and is hanging out with another patient named Aubrey (Michael Murphy).

Most of the film is framed by a conversation between Grant and Aubrey's wife Marian(Olympia Dukakis). The exact reason for this isn't exactly made clear for much of the film, but it's actually rather touching. Aside from this, and a few grainy flashbacks, which are momentary illustrations, the film's structure is entirely straightforward beginning to end. This is Sarah Polley's first film as a director, and she's not really taking any chances here.

Julie Christie is as lovely as ever, and this may be a bit of a snag, as she doesn't really look old enough for the part, but she does a hell of a job, and Pinsent spends the entire film with an air of quiet desperation, which is just perfect. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's isn't that cinematic topic for film. This and older fare such as “I Never Sang for My Father” and “The Notebook” don't get all that engaging in the drama department. Still, it's a worthy effort.

First Look 92mins, R

Directed and co-written
by Tommy O'Haver

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes it is, and the atrocities that have occurred in the unlikeliest of places, in this case suburban Indiana. The banality of evil has rarely been shown in as graphic a manor as it is here. This is one heck of a scary movie.

The framing device is the murder trial of Gertrude Baniszewski(Catherine Keener), who is accused of one of the most notorious crimes of the 1960s, the torture and murder of one Sylvia Likens (Ellen Page). The prosecutor(Bradley Whitford) interrogates various witnesses, which dissolve into flashback.

Sylvia and her sister Jennie Fae(Hayley McFarland) were carnies traveling with their parents(Nick Searcy and Romy Rosemont) throughout the mid-west, when they meet the Baniszewski family on their way back from church. When we first meet Paula(Ari Graynor), Shirley(Hannah Leigh Dworkin), Stephanie(Scout Taylor-Compton) and Marie(Carlie Westerman) they seem to be very nice people. Only baby brother Johnny(Tristan Jarred) seems a little off.

Mom and Dad have to go on the road for a number of months, so Mrs.Baniszewski offers to take them in for a while, (and a fee). We begin to wait with a morbid anticipation, while the sisters integrate themselves into their new family. Then it happens, but this is only forshadowing of the horror to come, as Sylvia accidently betrays a confidence, and by telling the truth, she is the victim of a horrible vengence. This is reminiscent of the notorious Kitty Genovese case, where nobody did anything while a woman was raped and murdered. No one seems to sympathize with poor Sylvia and neighbors Ricky(Evan Peters) and Teddy(Michael Welch), not to mention half the high school, actually join in, in this sick exercise in depravity.

This isn't an easy film to watch. Rarely has a crime drama gotten my dander up in such a way. Tommy O'Haver, who has specialized in fluffy teen romances (both gay and straight), has done the polar opposite of one. This is a true horror film.

Red Road
Tartan Films, 113mins, TBA

Written and Directed
by Andrea Arnold

1984 came late this year. One of the horrors of George Orwell's novel was that everyone was under surveillance all the time, 24 hours a day. Well, this prediction has come true, well not exactly, In Britain, many major cities have cameras everywhere, and just about every neighborhood is monitored by the cops, who only have the best of intentions, right?

Jackie(Kate Dickie) spends her working days monitoring the a vast bank of TV screens looking for crime. She spends her off hours doing nothing in particular, [like having causal sex with a coworker (Paul Higgins)] and is still in mourning for her lost family, who died a number of years before in circumstances that aren't revealed until the end. This tragedy has estranged her from her in-laws, who are pleased and shocked that she's accepted an invitation to a wedding.

But as the banality of Jackie's life continues, she spots Clyde(Tony Curran) walking along the streets of the titular neighborhood she monitors and the plot begins in earnest, as he had something to do with Jackie's personal tragedy. So she begins stalking him, befriending his roommates Stevie(Martin Compston) and April(Natalie Press), and having hot sex in order to frame Clyde for a crime he didn't commit.

The problem with this “thriller” is that it's boring. For much of the film, we just have Jackie doing nothing, arguing with her father-in-Law (Andrew Armour), and watching the monitors in her office. The stalking is slightly better, especially as the relationship between her and Clyde turns slightly kinky. This is the first of a series of films called “the Advance Party concept,” in which the same characters will be in different stories. While the first episode is rather good, I'm not exactly sure whether or not the rest of the series will keep the standards up, although that might not be so hard, all told.

Wait until it comes to cable.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Patrick Hubley

Things go from bad to worse...Sundance day one.

I should have known that disaster was looming when the Wendy's had a big sign: Take Your Food and Drink onto the airplane with you." So trusting them, I did. They confiscated my coke, my toothpaste and my shampoo, the latter two of which were well within regulation. Then, after a long and boring flight, and a two hour stop in Chicago, we finally got to Salt Lake City, which is cold as all hell, and in the morning I was told that I wasn't going to get my partial refund after all. The people at Sundance didn't mind me going to some press screenings, but they wouldn't let me go, so I'm going to try anyway.

Some of the afternoon was spent with Jeremy, the publisher of Film Festial Today, and his techie Carlos. In the morning, I went to the headquarters and was told that they would think about it and to call around eleven. Then eleven came around and nothing happened. I called on my new cel phone and nothing happened. A few tries later and I was told they were still thinking about it. Then I got credentials for Slamdance. There was no problems at all. However, when Jeremy, Carlos and I went back, we got the runaround. Then a very negative "maybe." there are three press screenings for "Chicago Ten" and there may not be enough space for me. This whole thing is a huge waste of time.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sundance/Slamdance The first batch.

As you may or may not know, I was the only member of the FFT team not to get press credentials, but since I paid for the hotel room and they won't give me a full discount, I'm going anyway, and a number of publicsts were kind enough to let me see pre-festival screenings. With any luck, I'll actually be able to do my job, but if not, I've got a few more I saw in New York plus there will be some at Slamdance. Here is the first batch:

HBO Films 90mins, NR

Directed by
Tom Hooper

Heroes are often wrong, and when they are they can pay a heavy price. Witness the case of the seventh Earl of Longford, who got involved with a notorious child murderer, and campaigned for her release, something the British people had never forgiven him for.

HBO and the BBC have made a TV movie tracing the sorry events, where a good, but naïve man causes personal disaster by doing what he thinks is the right thing. The film starts on a radio talk show, where Frank Packenham(Jim Broadbent), the aforementioned Earl, is promoting a book, he's just written, and the callers begin to denounce him about his relationship with Myra Hindley(Samantha Morton) the abovementioned serial killer.

Back in the early 1960s, Hindley and her boyfriend Ian Brady(Andy Serkis) had raped, tortured and killed a number of little children. The British media was just as sensational then as it is now, and Myra became the most hated person in British eyes since Hitler.

As Leader of the Government in the House of Lords, he had special interest in prison reform and had visited many prisoners convicted of infamous crimes and had gotten them paroled. This embarrasses Prime Minister Wilson(Robert Pugh), who fires him. As an ex minister who is independently wealthy, he goes full tilt on his pet projects, and it's at about this time, he first hears from Myra. At first, his wife, Lady Elizabeth(Lindsay Duncan), is against his visiting her, but he thinks that everyone can be rehabilitated, and he goes forward regardless of the consequences to him or his family.

The acting is excellent. British movie stars aren't adverse to appearing in TV movies, so HBO has gotten some of the best character actors to play the lead roles. Andy Serikis does a great Hannibal Lector impression, and that he isn't lying about Myra doesn't really sink in for much of the film. Samantha Morton's Myra is all over the place, alternately calculating, sweet and pathetic, and it isn't until the end where we know what really happened. Broadbent is the heart and soul of the piece, of course, and he plays the fool for the entire time. He's sweet and likeable, but aside from his vigor, it's amazing how he could have made it as far as he did in politics. He's an upper-class twit. This gives”do-gooding” a bad name, but it's an interesting film none the less.

American Fork
Alkaline Industries, ??mins, PG-13

Directed by
Chris Bowman

Who the hell is Hubbel Palmer and how did he manages to get all those C-listers in his movie? Apparently, a year or so back, a film he was in that was never seen again, won an award at Slamdance and, and he's done some small parts in some minor films, but that doesn't explain how he got all these people to work at scale on this inferior little trifle. Maybe the fact that the producer worked on “Napoleon Dynamite,” had something to do with it, but still, while that seemed to have struck a nerve with some of the public [I still think it sucked], any imitations are going to be even worse. Witness this…

Palmer plays Tracy Orbison, a nieve supermarket clerk who's still living with his mother(Kathleen Quinlan) and sister(Mary Lynn Rajskub). Aside from the fact that he's huge, and has an eating disorder, he has no real characteristics. Sure he doesn't get laid, but he's happy! It starts as what might be a slapstick comedy, but it isn't. What it IS isn't made clear, it's not funny at all and Tracy just goes forward on a trip to nowhere.

His boss(Bruce McGill) gives him a ticket to a local play starring a nobody named Truman Hope(William Baldwin), and it's love at first sight. He decides to become an actor, and tries to befriend his new mentor, but is betrayed. Then he befriends one of his coworkers (Vincent Caso) and is betrayed again, we have some more betrayals involving William Baldwin. This is more of a Greek tragedy than anything else, and since the entire film revolves around Hubbel Palmer and his alleged charisma, it fails entirely.

The success of “Napoleon Dynamite” may have something to do with the fact that the there are a number of major minor movie stars here, but the fact still is that nobody's going to get anything out of this except maybe most of a month's water bill paid off.

Don't worry about this, it's never going to see the light of day again.

Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America
Working Films, 86mins, PG-13

a documentary by
by Marco Williams

Before we start, let's get one thing clear: Every inch of land in the United States is stolen. The Europeans stole it from the Indians and the Indians stole it from other Indians and so forth back down to the age of the Mammoths. The same goes for the rest of the world as well. The question is how far back does one go before one's claim is declared invalid.

This is important, considering what happened to some African American families in the first decades of the last century. There were lots of lynchings and other atrocities in the South back then, and among these were throwing families off their land. This has been a dirty little secret in many places in the former Confederacy since before living memory.

So what to do about it? This is a short look into tiny piece of a much larger issue which most of the planet would rather not think about. Documentarian Marco Williams checks out three cases. The Strickland family who's ancestors were thrown out of Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912. The Cobb brothers try to disinter their great grandfather from a graveyard in Pierce City, Missouri, which banished its black residents in 1901, and the people of Harrison, Arkansas, where the KKK still has a large following, tries to figure out how to improve race relations in a place where Blacks are absent. His results are mixed.

Most of the film is about research. Going to the library and checking out ancient real estate transactions and newspapers can be really boring if it isn't done exactly right, but here it is. It's actually rather engrossing.

It's the reactions by the White residents which is most interesting, because they're all over the map, from full cooperation to utter hostility. The question of reparations is addressed, and while this is one of the more compelling cases for them, Williams' occasional snarkyness ruins it. Still, this is an excellent doc and we can see why it got into Sundance.