Monday, December 19, 2011

Update on 2009 in Film: The Brandy Awards

Update on 2009 in film.

Picture: Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
2. A Single Man
3. Up in the Air
4. Where the Wild Things Are
5. Antichrist
6. The Brothers Bloom
7. The Hurt Locker
8. The Cove
9. The Messenger
10. (500) Days of Summer
11. A Serious Man
12. Away We Go
13. Fantastic Mr. Fox
14. The White Ribbon
15. Me and Orson Welles
16. Avatar
17. Bright Star
18. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
19. Invictus
20. The Lovely Bones

Director: Lars Von Trier for Antichrist
2. Spike Jonze for Where the Wild Things Are
3. Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
4. Tom Ford for A Single Man
5. Lee Daniels for Precious 
Honorable Mention: Rian Johnson for The Brothers Bloom, Jason Reitman for Up in the Air

Update on 2008 in Film

You can find the original list here. I still haven't even seen 100 films from 2008 yet (at 99), so take the list with a grain of salt. 

1. Milk
2. Synecdoche, New York
3. The Dark Knight
4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
5. Man on Wire
6. Wall-E
7. The Wrestler
8. Revolutionary Road
9. Wendy and Lucy
10. The Betrayal
11. Frozen River
12. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
13. Burn After Reading
14. Tropic Thunder
15. Doubt
16. Encounters at the End of the World
17. Elegy
18. Slumdog Millionaire
19. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
20. Trouble the Water

Monday, December 5, 2011

Update on 2010 in Film: The Brandy Awards

UPDATE: Best Picture and Best Director have been updated. 

2010: The second annual Brandy Awards!

Films seen released in 2010: 151  178
Foreign Films Seen: 36                  44
Documentaries Seen: 41               51
Animated (yes pathetic): 7

Notable films missed in 2010: Let Me In, Tiny Furniture, Everyone Else, Around a Small Mountain, Daddy Longlegs, Sweetgrass, Lebanon

Picture: The Social Network
2. Toy Story 3
3. Blue Valentine
4. Inception
5. The Illusionist
6. Biutiful
7. Shutter Island
8. Exit Through the Gift Shop
9. Black Swan
10. The American
Honorable Mention: Enter the Void

Director: Gaspar Noe for Enter the Void
2. Christopher Nolan for Inception
3. Slyvain Chomet for The Illusionist
4. Derek Cianfrance for Blue Valentine
5. Darren Aronfsky for Black Swan
6. Martin Scorcese for Shutter Island
7. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Biutiful
8. Sofia Coppola for Somewhere
9. Anton Corbijn for The American
10. David Fincher for The Social Network
Honorable Mention: Mark Romanek for Never Let Me GoOlivier Assayas for Carlos, Mark and Jay Duplass for Cyrus, Claire Denis for White Material

Friday, December 2, 2011

Introduction from Shaun Tan's The Bird King and other sketches

I recently opened the book The Bird King and other sketches by Shaun Tan. Tan and his history are discussed in our interview from 5/1/2011 focusing on his Oscar-winning short film The Lost Thing which is based on his book of the same title. I've since read his most recent book Tales from Outer Suburbia which I thought was one of the best books I've read (children or adult) this year.

Essentially, this book is a bonus material compilation of sketches that have or have not become books/films/published art. Below I've transcribed the introduction to the book which I found surprisingly fascinating. I hope you enjoy this introduction and its well-written musings on creating art.

Excerpt from the introduction:

"I'm often wary of using the word "inspiration" to introduce my work - it sounds too much like a sun shower from the heavens, absorbed by a passive individual enjoying an especially receptive moment. While that may be the case on rare occasions when an idea pops into my head for no discernible reason, the reality is usually far more prosaic. Staring at a blank piece of paper, I can't think of anything original. I feel utterly uninspired and unreceptive. It's the familiar malaise of 'artist's block' and in such circumstances there is only one thing to do: just start drawing.

The artist Paul Klee refers to this simple act as 'taking a line for a walk', an apt description of my own basic practice: allowing the tip of a pencil to wander through the landscape of a sketchbook, motivated by a vague impulse but hoping to find something much more interesting along the way. Strokes, hooks, squiggles and loops can resolve into hills, faces, animals, machines - even abstracted feelings - the meanings of which are often secondary to the simple act of making (something young children know intuitively). Images are not preconceived and then drawn, they are conceived as they are drawn. Indeed, drawing is its own form of thinking, in the same way birdsong is 'thought about' within a bird's throat.

Klee has a second good metaphor: the artist as a tree, drawing from a rich compost of experience - things seen, read, told and dreamt - in order to grow leaves, flowers and fruit. Art, following the laws of horticulture, can only make something out of something else; artists do not create so much as transform. That's not to say the process is a casual or simple one. I find that good drawing requires conscientious effort: active research, careful observation of things around me, ongoing experimentation and reference-gathering, all of which exist 'behind the scenes'. To follow the Klee metaphor, artists need to work hard to make sure their creative soil is well tilled and fertilised. They need to look outward and actively accumulate a swag of influences, things to bring along when taking that line for a walk.

While much of my work involves exhibited projects like books, films and finished paintings, the primary material of all these - the compost - remains largely unseen, tucked away in folios, boxes and sketchbooks. Some are half-baked story ideas, either mercifully abandoned or looking for an excuse to be resurrected. Some are tests from the early or awkward middle stages of a project, very utilitarian drawings, stepping stones on the way to finished artwork. Some are exercises to simply keep fit as an artist, where the practice of drawing is about learning to see, a study that never ends. And then there are other sketches produced for no particular purpose at all, just for fun, and these can often be the most interesting."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Take Shelter

Leaving the theater after seeing Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols), I heard thunder and felt big raindrops starting to hit my face. Once you see this movie, which you absolutely should, you'll understand why I pretty much had a panic attack on the sidewalk.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Restless, a tragic coming of age tale

Restless, A-

Restless, directed by master auteur Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk), is a tragic coming of age tale. The film focuses on Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper), an angry death-obsessed teenager who often speaks with his ghost friend, a former Japanese kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase). Since, for reasons unknown, Enoch dropped out of school, he spends much of his time crashing funerals. At one particular funeral he meets Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska), a terminal cancer patient. In Van Sant’s eccentric way the film becomes their love story, delving into the tragic details of the two teens lives, and exploring their connection, which is unfortunately through their familiarity with death.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Netflix Instant Watch: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, A

Winner of the Palme d’Or, the top prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Uncle Boonmee is a mysterious film that feels more like a dream than a story. The film explores the waning moments of Boonmee, an elderly man in northern Thailand who’s dying from kidney failure. Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, Blissfully Yours, Syndromes and a Century) directs with a masterful sense of unity with nature. I left the film feeling different, looking at the world and, more importantly, nature from the lens of Weerasethakul. To me, this always marks a truly powerful and effective vision. If you’re into art film and/or visual storytelling, Uncle Boonmee is a must-see. Remember to be patient, and “adjust your eyes and expectations…after a while…you will start to feel at home.” (A.O. Scott, New York Times)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Netflix Instant Watch: The League

A few years ago, when everyone was tuning into FX for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I was too lazy to get off the couch after the show was over and ended up watching what was next on FX's Thursday lineup: The League. This show has since become one of my favorite weekly TV indulgences, along with 30 Rock and Bored to Death.

The first season is an engaging introduction to the overall series. Even as the show gets off to a slow start in the first few episodes (it seems to struggle initially with character development), The League only makes forgivable mistakes. Like in many sitcoms, the writing assumes its audience to be ultra-familiar with the characters immediately; however, on The League, unlike these other sitcoms, the characters aren't really recognizable types. They're always surprising and a little bit disgusting (which is FX's favorite quality in shows if you look at The League, Sunny, and Archer). That's what makes this show so fundamentally enjoyable; you're never exactly sure what's going on, and then it uncompromisingly offends and delights.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Netflix Instant Watch: Breaking Bad, Seasons 1-3

Emmy-winning Bryan Cranston portrays the complex, bedeviled Walter H. White, a high school science teacher whose discovery that he has terminal lung cancer leads him to begin manufacturing and selling methamphetamine to cushion his family's future. With the help of former student Jesse (Emmy-winning Aaron Paul), Walter plunges valiantly into the criminal underworld, doing his best to coexist with a gallery of bewildering and dangerous characters. -Netflix

Set and produced in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Breaking Bad is the story of a man taking back his life. As lead actor Bryan Cranston states, “breaking bad…means when someone …has taken a turn off the path of the straight and narrow, when they’ve gone wrong.” When Walter White finds out he has cancer, he reacts by taking his life back. Instead of reaching out to others for help, he finds control emotionally and economically through manufacturing and selling methamphetamine. Themes of the show include one’s relationship with society, man’s place in family, the effect of drug use on one’s self and their family, and of course the methamphetamine trade.

Quite simply, this show is like Weeds on meth. Therefore, please note that the stakes of producing, distributing and using the drug are significantly higher, yielding shocking drama. I highly recommend this show, because it grows characters organically, while still remaining thrilling.

In its first three years, the show has won six Emmys, with an additional 10 nominations.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, a funny David Cross sit-com with Will Arnett and Spike Jonze

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, B-

Todd Margaret sits handcuffed in a loud crowded courtroom, guarded by British police, as the judge reads his charges “[including] child endangerment, espionage, embezzlement, persistent public urination, [and] impersonating a gentleman.”

This describes the recurring opening for David Cross’s 2010 TV show The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, a British sit-com featuring creator/star David Cross (Arrested Development) as Todd Margaret, an incapable temp who coincidentally is sent to head an international company’s brand-new London office to sell “Thunder Muscle,” a toxic energy drink. The show is as silly and unrealistic as it sounds, but still entertains. Todd is a complete imbecile, and this unfortunate characteristic leads to all kinds of over-the-top humor that will possibly give you a chuckle or two. The real laughs come from co-stars Will Arnett, known as the exceptionally funny "Job" from Arrested Development, and Spike Jonze, Oscar-nominated director of Adaptation. and Where the Wild Things Are, in a rare acting performance. Arnett hilariously plays Margaret’s foul-mouthed boss who won’t let anyone get a word in edgewise (much like an American version of Malcom from In the Loop) and Jonze plays Margaret’s awkward yet persistent former boss who is constantly being put down by Arnett’s character.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Netflix Instant Watch: Louie, Season one

Louie season one, B+

“Written and directed by comic Louis C.K. -- who plays a fictionalized version of himself -- this FX series eschews sitcom structure for a loose format that lets single dad Louie be his irascible self -- through vignettes, club performances and more.” – Netflix

This Emmy-nominated TV show uses its unusual structure to both humorously and honestly examine ordinary issues like weight gain and exercise, middle-aged dating, and, most importantly and poignantly, raising children as a single parent. Watch this if you're looking for something that's short, light, and funny, but not silly and stupid. It will play with your mind and your heart without bringing down your day. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Wire, a portrait of Baltimore

The Wire series, A+


Not only is The Wire the best TV show I’ve ever seen, but it is one of the best pieces of art I’ve ever experienced in any form. This American drama series, set and produced in Baltimore, Maryland, showed on HBO from June 2002 to March 2008. With episodes lasting about an hour each, it ran for 60 episodes across five seasons. The Wire is a fictional but realistic portrait of the city of Baltimore.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Red State, a fun and terrifying horror flick (re-posted, revamped)

This was originally posted in March after I saw the film via the Red State USA tour at the Wilbur Theater in Boston. I've edited it again, added more images and video, and updated the release information including the theatrical plan, VOD, and DVD/Blu-ray. Feel free to scroll to the end where I put the full length trailer, as well as the new release information. The film is out on VOD NOW till approximately October 13th, including iTunes! 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fight For Your Right Revisited, a fun short film

Written and directed by Adam Yauch (MCA of the Beastie Boys), this Sundance Film Festival short follows the end of the storyline from the original “Fight For Your Right” music video. As IMDB breaks down the plot, “the Beasties break into a liquor store, drop acid with groupies, and get into a breakdance competition with time-traveling future versions of themselves.” The video was used as a promotional tool for the Beastie Boys’ new album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. At MTV's Video Music Awards (VMAs), a shortened version of the film was nominated for Video of the Year (for the lead-off track "Make Some Noise") and Best Direction. The video is embedded at the end of this post. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kickstarter, and Sundance film On the Ice

by Brandon Isaacson

Kickstarter is an emerging online method for funding art projects, that allows ordinary art fans the ability to co-fund projects in manageable sums. Creative projects can mean films, music, photography, theater, art or anything really. As Shawn Levy put it in The Oregonian, “Kickstarter allows people with creative projects to build pages on the site to describe the work they hope to do and the costs they face, and, crucially, to offer various rewards and benefits to potential backers in exchange for pledges of support.” This method of crowdfunding allows artists to spread the word on their project while raising money and letting their fans be involved. As Levy noted, Kickstarter campaigns use rewards as incentives to donate money. One such example lies with current project On the Ice, an award-winning film that seeks money for marketing. For my donation of $30, I will receive a digital download of the film (upon its release in late 2011 or early 2012), a DVD copy, and a thank you from the film’s Facebook. Interestingly, if a project isn’t fully funded by its stated deadline, it doesn’t receive anything. This all-or-nothing method is cited by Kickstarter as less risky for both the artist and consumer, and motivates consumers to spread the word in order to see a project come to life. Kickstarter truly is a revolutionary way to connect artists to their audience.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Transitions, or: Why You Should Be Excited for the Future of this Blog

by Eliza Rosenberry

In reawakening from this sleepy summer, we here at Bostonian on Film would like to thank our readers for their patience. Like many of you, we've spent the past few months in a transitory state; between our collective internships, jobs, travels, and sheer exhaustion due to humidity, regular updates to the site have become fewer and farther between. We apologize for this temporary lull with a promise to assume our usual enthusiasm within the next few weeks.
On a personal note, I am leaving Boston in the fall to pursue career opportunities in New York City. However, after discussions with the rest of the staff here, I'm going to remain the Editor-in-Chief of Bostonian on Film. More excitingly, I'll have access to a whole new world of movies! Many films premiere in New York weeks before they reach other cities, if they even reach there at all, and there are often promotional events, screenings, and talks that I wouldn't have access to in Boston.
That means more exciting blog posts, potential interviews, and information for all of you to enjoy. Read about the New York Film Festival after the jump.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Netflix Instant Watch: William S. Burroughs: A Man Within

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within is a documentary portrait of radical beat author William Burroughs. Burroughs, author of QueerJunkie and Naked Lunch, lived and wrote on the edge of what readers were willing to accept. He burst onto the art scene in the 1950s, being one of the artists that ushered in the 1960s counterculture of America. As John Waters says in the film, “[Burroughs] had punk values. William was…angry and caused trouble and was not politically correct.” Burroughs’ social extremism (of the 1950s) is examined through his immersion into guns, drugs, and homosexuality. In addition to John Waters, director Yony Leyser interviews Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Gus Van SantAmiri Baraka, members of Sonic Youth, and David Cronenberg. If you like documentaries and/or are interested in the beat movement, I recommend this film about one of the great radicals of the 20th century.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Project Nim, a profound and poignant examination of man and his closest relative, the chimp

Project Nim, A-

Project Nim is a phenomenal film from James Marsh, Oscar winning director of Man on Wire. I saw this in late April at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, where it was received with a standing ovation. For me, it elicited excitement, curiosity, outrage and tears.

It’s the story of Nim, a chimp who was raised and nurtured like a human child in the 1970s. The experiment attempted to examine communication, and the possibility of creating effective complex communication between man and his closest relative, the chimp. The Sundance Film Festival guide accurately called the film an  “unflinching, unsentimental biography of an animal we tried to make human. What we learn about Nim’s true nature – and indeed our own – is comic, revealing, and profoundly unsettling.”

I expect this film to be nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar in 2012, as the film is made expertly, and strongly stimulates both one’s intellect and emotions.

The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2011, where it received universal praise (and continues to at 97% on RT currently) and won the Best Directing Award for World Documentary.

Friday, July 1, 2011

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, a complex and fascinating take on domestic terrorism and the US’ relationship with the environment

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, B+

The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is the name of an organization that sabotages different operations that supposedly exploit or harm the environment. If a Tree Falls is an objective journalistic effort from Marshall Curry that examines the scintillating moral dilemmas that result. One among many questions it asks is whether or not the Earth Liberation Front members are domestic terrorists. The film focuses on ELF member Daniel McGowan, who grew up a normal suburban teen; he began his life of environmental activism after having his eyes opened to the atrocities man commits on its environment and fellow animals.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Green Lantern: Reveling in B-Movie Camp

by Michelle Buchman

The Hollywood trend of “serious” comic book movies can be irking. Yes, we get it, the heroes often have other-worldly powers that conflict with the already tiring struggle of their daily lives. Sometimes though, you just want a movie that acknowledges comic book stories are over-the-top. Green Lantern takes a somewhat ridiculous origin story and turns it into campy, summer movie fun.

Within the superhero Universe, Green Lantern contains the most off-the-wall concept out of them all. Spoilers ahead (although if you’ve read the comic, you know how the story starts): a race known as the Guardians of the Universe create the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force sworn by oath to protect the galaxy. Each lantern possesses a green power ring created by the Guardians. These rings are fueled by the willpower of its wearer and are what grants a lantern their powers. When a lantern is killed, the ring must find someone who has no fear to become the newest member of the corps. Hal Jordan, a slacker-type test pilot, becomes the first human lantern. It sounds slightly confusing, and the film spends at least a half hour trying to explain all of this. I’m still unsure how mainstream audiences will embrace Green Lantern because the origin isn’t readily grounded in anything an audience can easily connect with. Batman, at its core, is the story of a man who doesn’t have superpowers, but uses technological devices and intellect to thwart criminals. Hal Jordan is a man given abilities that makes him capable of joining the fight against those who threaten the different sectors of the universe. We can all relate to the man who wants to combat evil but struggles against the odds, yet often distance between character and audience happens when supernatural or ethereal elements enter the picture.

After watching the test footage debuted at San Diego Comic-Con last year, I was skeptical about the visual effects in the film. However, while Reynold's suit and the rest of the visual effects looked sloppy at Comic-Con, the finished movie has great graphics. The budget given for them is below what most summer blockbusters get, but did not look cheap or take you out of the story. In particular, I loved the scenes with Jordan and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps on the Guardians’ planet, Oa. The CGI for the Green Lantern suit is better, but looks almost painted on at certain points. Additionally, with most films I normally dislike the 3D used, but this movie did a great job of incorporating 3D to contribute depth to the scenes. Not every scene utilized it, but the shots that did weren’t outrageous or headache-inducing.

The standout actor in the film without a doubt was Peter Sarsgaard as Dr. Hector Hammond, the brilliant scientist who turns mad. Sarsgaard plays the role completely over-the-top, embracing the campy, b-movie nature of the story. The result is a fun descent from a good natured man to an evil genius. Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan and Blake Lively as Jordan’s love interest, Carol Ferris, were both passable but not anything special. The script itself doesn’t give them spectacular dialogue to work with. Reynolds is the actor in Hollywood closest to Hal Jordan in terms of appearance, but there were no scenes in particular that stick out in my mind. I enjoyed that the film had moments where it acknowledges the silliness of the genre. A scene between Reynolds and Lively where she recognizes Green Lantern’s secret identity was particularly nice to see. Honestly, who wouldn’t be able to guess a superheroes true self if their only method of disguise is a mask partially covering their face? Moreover, the major complaint I have of the film is the final battle between the movies main villain and the Green Lantern. The fight is lackluster and gets resolved incredibly quickly for what seems like a long build up to it. I would have liked to see more of a grandiose battle. Lastly, make sure you stay for the credits of the film to see a scene that sets up the inevitable sequel, pending success of the first installment.

If you are seeking a fun summer time waster, I would offer up Green Lantern as an option. In particular, I think this film will play really well to kids who won’t overanalyze the convoluted plot as adults probably will. Sure, there isn’t anything groundbreaking going on but not all blockbusters have to be. Green Lantern offers up a b-movie style alternative to all the “serious” comic book films as of late. If anything, let’s hope this inspires more people to pick up copies of Green Lantern and start reading.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Midnight in Paris: Time and place in Woody Allen's newest film

By Eliza Rosenberry

Woody Allen movies are always very obviously Woody Allen movies.  Even as his films branched out from Diane Keaton love affair storylines (see Zelig and Vicky Cristina Barcelona for two of his most creative pieces), there are elements in each that make them definitively Woody Allen.

Although most of these commonalities are characterizations of the autobiographical protagonist (neuroticism, intellectualism, self-alienation), Allen also places a significant value on the location of his films.  Most of his earlier works take place in New York City.  In Annie Hall, Allen’s character notes that he is too East Coast-neurotic to live in California, thereby correlating mentalities to geographies.  Vicky Cristina Barcelona similarly relies on the exoticism and unfamiliarity of the city to create a foreign, dreamlike state of consciousness.  Midnight in Paris, Allen’s newest film, again toys with the notion of tourism but also develops a more complex relationship between the protagonist (a pitch-perfect Owen Wilson) and the city (Paris).

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Incendies: Film as metaphor

By Eliza Rosenberry

Watching movies for their literal value has become inherent in contemporary film culture.  Plot-driven blockbusters and emotionally-sensitive indie flicks both rely on literal interpretation. Taking films at face value is often beneficial, as most movies are created for such an approach. However, Incendies is so literally upsetting and traumatizing for even the most removed viewers that it could be far more productive to watch the film as a metaphor.

Incendies is a French Canadian film about a Palestinian sister and brother who are sent by their mother's posthumous wishes to uncover a dark family history.  The story itself becomes progressively and increasingly horrible.  Without revealing the plot twists, it turns out that the family has a history of political and personal violence that cycles throughout generations.

Their mother's dying wishes initially seem demanding and unnecessary; the closure afforded  at the end of the film seems more for her benefit than her children's.  Metaphorically, though, the family can be seen as a representation of the unending perpetual conflict in Palestine, among and between religions and generations.  In the children's recognition of their origins of violence and resentment in their family history (arguably interpretable as original sin) there exists a potential release from this very cycle.

Yeah, it sounds pretty corny without the movie's details (I really don't want to ruin the plot twists because they're so affecting).  But the story is so upsetting that understanding it as a metaphor makes it both tolerable and universal.  Film interpretation generally takes a literal form, with additional understandings of theme and structure, but metaphor serves a significant purpose in understanding Incendies.  The film uses striking cinematography as a constant reminder of human capacity for both evil and beauty, and shows how the two are often more closely linked than we might like.

Contact me on Twitter: @elizarosenberry or email:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hangover 2: Don’t waste your money

The Hangover Part 2, C-

This review will have NO spoilers, and I HIGHLY recommend you avoid other reviews with spoilers if you plan on seeing this.

Upon beginning, I must admit a few things: I LOVE the writer/director Todd Phillips. I’m a HUGE fan of The Hangover, in fact I rated it 5/5 and “favorited” it on my Mubi (the in-depth account of all my favorite movies). I’m also a big Zach Galifianakis fan, although I admit I’ve been getting tired of him.

Please heed my warning: Don’t waste $11 to see this movie.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Misses the mark, albeit beautifully

By Eliza Rosenberry

Not everyone wants to watch German director Werner Herzog's movies.  They can be a little frustrating and too much for even the most philosophical of viewers.  If you've even heard of him, it's probably because of his crazy antics (example one, example two) and not for his directorial skills.  His best-known film in recent years is probably Grizzly Man, but my favorite is Encounters at the End of the World.  Herzog attempts to find humanity in the unlikeliest of circumstances, a goal at which he often remarkably succeeds.  Once you adapt to the thickly-accented, poetically-motivated narration, his documentaries are probably the best artistic efforts to capture and explore extremes of human existence in recent years.

That said, Cave of Forgotten Dreams was pretty disappointing despite being a documentary  filmed and shown in 3D.  Particularly in the context of his other documentaries, in which narration compliments visual and sometimes falls silent to allow footage to speak for itself, Herzog's newest venture seems contrived and limited.  The film is about the breathtaking French Chauvet cave with the oldest cave paintings (oldest artistic achievements of any kind, the film is quick to note) yet discovered.  Herzog does his usual interviews with involved persons, from the scientists who research the physical nature of the cave to the artistic historians who analyze the paintings themselves.  The film uses 3D to its advantage, certainly; it often allows the viewer to feel as confined and claustrophobic as the cave itself.  Spatiality is developed in Cave of Forgotten Dreams like nothing I've ever seen.

But to be perfectly frank, it seems as though the film crew got funding and access to these severely-restricted caves and showed up on Day One of filming only to discover that they had practically nothing to work with.  Through arguably little fault of his own, Herzog fails to uncover the fascinating characters and personal histories which make his other films so rich.  The cave itself is certainly beautiful and breathtaking, but with such limited access and content (you can only look at so many rock formations before they begin to look the same) the film gets antsy.  Herzog randomly inserts a scene from another cave, elsewhere in Europe, and a boring interview with a man wearing caveman-style garb talking about this unrelated cave.  Although I understand the film's efforts to compliment its limited subject matter, and extend the length of the film itself, this interview only drew attention to the insufficiency of the film's content.

Even though Herzog's heart is in the right place and his filmmaking is admirable and motivated, Cave of Forgotten Dreams falls significantly short of being the astounding, game-changing 3D documentary it was purported to be.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams, C

Get in touch with Eliza via Twitter: @elizarosenberry or email:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to Die in Oregon: A poignant documentary about life and death

How to Die in Oregon, A

Synopsis, as written by the Sundance Film Festival 2011 guide:

From its opening scene…it becomes shockingly clear that How to Die in Oregon is a special film. In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. As a result, any individual whom two physicians diagnose as having less than six months to live can lawfully request a fatal dose of barbiturate to end his or her life. Since 1994, more than 500 Oregonians have taken their mortality into their own hands.
In How to Die in Oregon, filmmaker Peter Richardson…gently enters the lives of the terminally ill as they consider whether—and when—to end their lives by lethal overdose. Richardson examines both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue. What emerges is a life-affirming, staggeringly powerful portrait of what it means to die with dignity.

How to Die in Oregon examines the Death with Dignity Act, a law that allows people who are medically declared six months from death the ability to have physician-assisted suicide. The law intends to allow patients to retain control of their lives, instead of fading away painfully and becoming nothing but a burden to those around them.


The film focuses on 54-year-old woman Cody Curtis, who is told she has only a few months to live as a result of liver cancer. The film seamlessly weaves all the smaller stories into Curtis’. While each story is both fascinating and heartbreaking, none captivate like Curtis’. Director Peter Richardson certainly recognized this, as he proves himself to be an expert documentarian.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hesher: An absurdly fun movie

Hesher, B+

by Brandon Isaacson

Description from Sundance 2010:

Hesher is the story of a family struggling to deal with loss and the anarchist who helps them do it— in a very unexpected way.
TJ is 13 years old. Two months ago, his mom was killed in an accident, leaving TJ and his grieving dad to move in with grandma to pick up the pieces. Hesher is a loner. He hates the world—and everyone in it. He has long, greasy hair and homemade tattoos. He likes fire and blowing things up. He lives in his van— until he meets TJ.
Hesher is that rare film that manages to be a completely original vision, a thoroughly entertaining story, and a provocative metaphor. Joseph Gordon Levitt brings the character of Hesher to life with anger and angst, and Devin Brochu makes quite a splash as the young boy dealing with both the loss of his mother and an unwanted houseguest. Cowriter/director Spencer Susser crafts a multidimensional, darkly humorous film that exhibits an immensely talented storyteller at work.

(All expletives in this review are not only relevant, they’re necessary.)

Hesher is a bad ass fucking movie. While it definitely has dramatic shortcomings, it’s the kind of fun summer movie I’ve been waiting for. If you’re sick of seeing the same old shit (super hero movies, cutesy animated sequels, etc) this is a great time.

Bridesmaids Review: New Gender Roles in Studio Hollywood

By Eliza Rosenberry

It’s been a recent trend for female comedians and actors to bemoan the gender culture of studio Hollywood.  Not to say that moviemaking hasn’t always had a male-dominated power structure, with male-centric stories, but for some reason there’s been a lot of welcomed questioning lately regarding female characterizations (see this Natalie Portman interview).  Girls and women in studio movies often lack the depth and relatability of their male counterparts; an example Portman references in that interview, Devil Wears Prada, appears to present a strong female lead but her success is undermined by femininity (especially its location in fashion).  Even Judd Apatow's previous movies don't allow women characters to be in on the joke.  Although Bridesmaids’s protagonist (played by a superbly balanced Kristen Wiig) is a pastry chef, a traditional homemaker-like career path, she’s otherwise one of the only female characters in recent memory to refuse female conventions while maintaining a strong sense of relatability.

Bridesmaids is hilarious.  It’s as good as Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, and somehow manages to incorporate the best of all of its talent.  Apatow’s production and oversight is certainly palpable, particularly in the film’s structure (sex scene, sadness, failure, isolation, self-alienation, some good drunk scenes, epiphany, everyone comes together at the end).  But Paul Feig, the film’s director (known for creating Feaks and Geeks back in the 90’s and also for directing episodes of some of the best television comedies since: The Office, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, and Bored to Death, to name a few), has incorporated his television experience and eye for scene development into an efficient yet cinematic film.  That is to say, individual scenes (I’m thinking of the one where Kristen Wiig gets inebriated on a plane) feel like they could have been a threaded storyline in a sitcom, but are done so epically that it is actually very movie-like.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, an intriguing piece on product placement

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, B

The synopsis as provided by Sony Classics is:

Boundary-pushing Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock explores the world of product placement, marketing and advertising in POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a film that was fully financed through product placement from various brands, all of which are integrated transparently into the film…

With humor and insight, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold unmasks the marketing process to bring audiences behind closed doors directly into the pitch meetings and marketing presentations which ultimately inform our everyday entertainment decisions. 

This film is being defined by critics as a shallow documentary by a man who’s more of an arrogant comedian than a documentarian (Ethan Gilsdorf of the Boston Globe said “much like reality TV, nothing much of consequence happens” and Brent Simon from Shared Darkness said “it never really digs into its subject matter in a deep or interesting enough way”). I couldn’t find this to be farther from the truth. Like many of the commercial products depicted, the film itself is being falsely branded!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Aaron Katz's Cold Weather

Aaron Katz has experienced festival and critical success for his first two feature films, Dance Party USA and Quiet City, primarily coming out of the South by Southwest Film Festival’s affinity for so-called mumblecore filmmakers.  (The New York Times wrote an excellent piece a few years ago about this film movement.  Generally speaking, mumblecore is--in addition to being an obsession of mine--a contemporary approach to indie filmmaking with a focus on character development and spending as little money during production as possible.) Like Andrew Bujalski or Joe Swanberg, mumblecore’s other major players, Katz creates features that are grouped in this movement.  His newest film Cold Weather, which premiered at SXSW this year to positive reviews, both draws and deviates from mumblecore traditions while maintaining a playful relationship with genre and style.

Cold Weather is about a young man who moves in with his older sister in Portland, Oregon, and gets caught up in a good old-fashioned mystery: missing person, stolen capital, tire slashing, the whole nine yards.  The protagonist, Doug, is a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and the film is inspired considerably by the detective genre.  Against this backdrop, though, the movie maintains many mumblecore characteristics.  Small moments of connection between characters, mundane conversations, and an obvious low-budget stylistic approach connect Cold Weather to Katz’s other films.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Terri: A decent character piece that never quite let me in

Terri, C

by Brandon Isaacson

From the description at Sundance 2011 (where the film appeared in competition):

Director Azazel Jacobs (Momma’s Man) returns to the Sundance Film Festival with a tale that will speak to anyone who has ever felt insecure or misunderstood. In other words . . . everyone.
Orphaned to an uncle who is ailing, mercilessly teased by his peers, and roundly ignored by his jaded teachers, Terri finds himself alienated and alone. But when the dreaded vice principal, Mr. Fitzgerald, sees a bit of himself in the boy, they establish a friendship that encourages Terri to consider the possibility that life is something to be shared, even enjoyed, not just endured. 

I found myself very disappointed with Terri. While it definitely had a few powerful visuals, I found myself disconnected from the characters and thus unaffected by the story.

I saw this film at IFF Boston, where director Azazel Jacobs called the film a fable. He explained that he wanted the story to be a bit removed from reality. While I can see the value that may come from this (and perhaps does in small doses), it ultimately hurt my experience. This style made the viewing experience voyeuristic, so I was too far away from the characters to see myself in them. In addition, many of the characters fall into caricatures, like the douchebag Phys Ed. teacher, the lonely high school girl who uses her sexuality to feel wanted, or our lead character: the weird fat kid who’s an outcast because of his problems at home. In general there’s nothing wrong with these character types, it’s just that they don’t bring enough complexity to their situations.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Director Profile: Bertrand Bonello

by Eliza Rosenberry

Despite Bertrand Bonello's regular invitations to present his controversial films at Cannes (first in 2001 with The Pornographer, then in 2003 for Tiresia and again in 2005 with a short film), he has remained consistently unembraced by international audiences.  This year, he is invited again to present his new film, L'apollonide (translated as House of Tolerance). This piece is a profile of Bonello's previous work in preparation for Cannes 2011.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Chat with Mike Luciano, director of the recent The Pains of Being Pure At Heart music video

Mike Luciano is a young up-and-coming director who recently graduated from Northeastern University and moved to Brooklyn. He first did a video for the band Twin Sister and and then successfully moved on to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart's video for "Heart In Your Heartbreak." You can find all of Luciano's work, including the new Pains music video, at his website City on Film. 

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are an indie pop band that has exploded over their first two albums. They've been honored by prestigious music blog Pitchfork with the tag "Best New Music" on both of their albums. Their first album, which is self-titled, came out in February 2009 to excellent critical reception, drawing comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division and The Smiths. Their new release, Belong, came out on March 29, 2011, to equally favorable reviews.

You can find out more about the band at their official website

Who are your influences as a director?

For music videos, I still swear by my Palm Pictures DVD box set of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham videos, which are sort of a crash course in some of the best music videos ever made.

For film, I mostly love directors with specific visions whose films are marked with a distinct voice that is unmistakably theirs. Following the careers of those kinds of directors is most exciting and inspiring to me, especially those who find the difficult balance between being ‘funny’ without necessarily being ‘comedies’, like Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson. Others are ‘favorites’ that I can’t ever imagine making a movie similar to – nutso, European geniuses like Michael Haneke or Gaspar Noe, who’s films I can’t get enough of.  I love Richard Linklater, Eric Rohmer as well, among many others.