Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some Boys Don't Leave, a short film about being the one left behind

Some Boys Don't Leave, A-

Some Boys Don't Leave is an excellent short film about when there's a breakup, but one party can't break away. Jesse Eisenberg plays a boy going through denial about being left by his girlfriend. Both Eisenberg and his counterpart Eloise Mumford play their parts phenomenally, especially with manipulating their voices (Eloise has one shrill scream that really stopped me in my tracks). While the film wanders about different situations, it always comes back to the single image of The Boy sitting and waiting. He's waiting, and he has no idea what he's waiting for. Maybe waiting for The Girl to come to her senses, or waiting to be ready to leave and move on, maybe waiting to die. All he knows is he's waiting, and he will continue to until he's bashed over the head by some catalyst. 

Throughout the film, The Boy is playing with a bright yellow tennis ball. He never really lets the ball out of his sight, always bouncing it or squeezing it. The ball is a beautiful metaphor for The Boy's situation. He really is kind of like a bouncing tennis ball. The breakup (the catalyst) starts as the throwing of the ball, and then I imagine it bounces down a road. It jumps about, vulnerable to any crack in the road, almost waiting to be thrown off course. If it hits the wrong bump in the road or pebble, it could spin out of control (in this case, it'd hopefully be a good thing, like finding someone or something new to consume him). 

The film ends on very upbeat music (this and all other music is written by Kiley's husband, Matthew Puckett, all of which is excellent and used very well in the film). I love this almost subtle message (which Kiley mentions briefs in my interview with her: ).  She says that the point is "... so we were left knowing he was going to be okay." I think it's even more than that. The song and/or moment curiously reminded me of when Tom is in this similar distraught period in the film (500) Days of Summer. He sits in bed bouncing a TENNIS BALL, and suddenly (over the equally energetic "Vagabond" by Wolfmother) he begins his life anew. He starts getting his life back on track and starts pursuing his previous passion, architecture. I like to think that The Boy in Some Boys Don't Leave is starting anew, either going back to what he once loved, or finding something new. 

Kiley is currently working on her first feature length film, which is called Light Years. It's the feature length version of this short film. 

An Interview with Director Maggie Kiley, about her short film Some Boys Don't Leave starring Jesse Eisenberg


Here is the first blog interview! Director Maggie Kiley was kind enough to answer some questions for me about her recently released short film Some Boys Don't Leave. You can buy the film on iTunes for $2. As she says in the interview,  Maggie is currently working on the feature length version of this film. 

Maggie and her film won the Student Visionary Award at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, Alexis Award for Best Emerging Student Filmmaker at 2010 Palm Springs Shortfest, and Film Groundbreaker at 2010 Hatchfest Asheville. 

Synopsis: Some boys is the story of what happens when the break-up happens but the break does not. 'Boy' is forced to come to terms with the fact that 'Girl' no longer wants him around. The only problem is he just can't seem to leave their once shared apartment. 'Girl' decides to keep living her life around him; while he remains, watching at a distance. In time, each decides to go in his or her own distinctly different directions. 'Boy' soon finds that sometimes the greatest distance we are asked to travel is one within ourselves. 

Here is what Maggie and I discussed:

What is it like to release a short film? How do you feel about releasing a short on iTunes release?
Maggie: Shorts have a limited audience unless you have a great festival run. It's exciting to have an iTunes release.  We found a lot of followers of the film on Facebook and were receiving a lot of requests to view the film - when we finally got it up it was a great day.

What are your thoughts on the art of short film? How is it unique and at times better than the feature film? Do you have any favorite short films?
I had seen very few shorts before I started this project.  I have great respect for the art form now.  It is quit difficult to do a short well.  I love NEW BOY from Steph Green.

What are your influences for this film and/or what are your favorite films in general?
I come from an acting background and am drawn to character driven stories.  In terms of tone for some boys I always pitched collaborators by telling them I imagined it was Garden State meets Eternal Sunshine.  I'm not sure if that is where we ended up but it influenced where we started.

Tell me about how the writing dynamic between you and Matthew Mullen worked? 
Fantastic.  He's a wonderful collaborator - we did almost everything over email.  We worked like a relay team- constantly passing the baton back and forth.  We wrote the entire feature this way as well.

How did you structure the film? Is each scene a different stage of denial?
Any plan for structure came from a great quote about short films- that they are 'the swift illumination into the heart of a character" It's The Boy's story and I wanted to present this slice from his life- and how things got progressively more difficult for him as the days go by.

Why did you choose Jesse? Who else did you consider? Is he doing the feature? 
Jesse and I acted together in a play and he is a good friend.  I knew he'd be a wonderful collaborator and it worked out that it fit in his schedule. Jesse is not doing the feature.  I'm sure we will find a project again in the future - the some boys feature is an entirely different piece.

Certain elements, like the fact that The Boy actually changes clothes, are close to reality while others are strange like the fact that he literally doesn’t leave her apartment. How did you balance being realistic and being cinematic?
Honestly I tried not to think about it too much.  There were certain rules we stuck to - we never see him leave the hallway etc. and I wanted a simple progression of clothing but nothing so specific to days and changes - it's like a memory play - it appears to you in snippets.

What can you tell me about the feature film? Will it embody the same strange cinematic plot or take a more literal approach to the situation?
It's called LIGHT YEARS - and it's a coming of age story of The Boy - how he arrived at this break up and how he literally and figuratively gets up off the floor and finds his way back.  It jumps around a lot and definitely shares a similar tone as some boys.  It opens up to whole world of characters he deals with along the way.

You seem to bring in the color yellow more than a few times (The Boy’s shirt, the tennis ball, the plate, The Boy’s mention of a banana). Is the color yellow important to the film and/or The Boy’s character? 

Not specific choice.  We had an amazing colorist who we worked with who did great things like a gradual shift from a more vibrant beginning to a washed out and bleak end.

You are a female writer/director in a male dominated industry. Curiously, you wrote the film from a male point of view. Why did you make this choice?
It's funny - most of the other women who have participated in the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute with me wrote from the female point of view.  I didn't give it much thought.  I have scripts written from both - I don't think it should matter who you are - if you get behind a character and find their story you can and should jump in there.  We have enough limitations already.

One thing I’m left wondering is whether or not the story would go the same way if he had left her; would she cling on to him? Do you think her recovery process would be different? 
Of course.

If so, did you intend to discuss gender with this film, in the different way males and females deal with being left? 
Breaking up is a universal experience and I don't think there is a traditionally male or female way to go through it.

I once spoke with an Oscar nominated screenwriter and director (nominated for screenplay, not directing), who told me she’s been challenged by misogyny because of which she had to leave a project. Do you find it important to identify yourself as a female filmmaker in a male dominated industry?
Of course. The statistics are just ridiculous.  But for now it's just about the work and I'm moving forward as a director not a female one.

This is definitely not a fast paced energetic film, yet you use a fast energetic song over the ending credits. I find this similar to Tom getting back on his feet in (500) Days of Summer over the similarly paced “Vagabond” by Wolfmother. Is this meant to inform the next step of the story that we don’t see in the film?
I always knew I wanted to end credit song to be a boy anthem so we were left knowing he was going to be ok.  My husband composed the music for the film and wrote and sings the end song.  I told him what I wanted and he wrote 4 passes- as soon as I heard How You Do (without any real lyrics yet just a rough idea) I knew it was it.  We also put the song in really loud - which I am so happy about.  Some festivals turned it down but it was great when they kept it and let it rip.

What does the future hold for Maggie Kiley? Do you have any plans aside from the Some Boys feature? When can we expect the feature? Do you know when you’re going to shoot it and/or where (or have any details on production for it)?
Thanks for asking! We are in prep to shoot LIGHT YEARS in the late Spring in NY and LA. Hopefully it will play festivals next year and have a late 2012 or early 2013 release.  I'm also attached to direct the feature PHOBIC, am developing another writer/director project DIAL-A-PRAYER with my own production company and have two different cable tv projects in different stages of development.

Info available on all fronts at

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Heartbeats, an elegant visual treat

Heartbeats, A-

Xavier Dolan's film Heartbeats is his second however only his first to hit the US. It's a visual feast filled with chic fashion, gorgeous actors and highly stylized cinematography shown often in slow motion.

Dolan stars in the film with Monia Chokri and Niels Schneider. They each play their parts to perfection, which is aided by Dolan's patience. The sad reality I find with most films is that they are in a rush, fearing you are getting bored; Heartbeats let's the events unfold slowly as it observes with a keen eye. I'd even go as far as to say the camera is infatuated with these three subjects; it lusts for them, it hates them, it loves them, etc.

The Adjustment Bureau, an intriguing and complex film

The Adjustment Bureau, B

The Adjustment Bureau marks the directorial debut of George Nolfi, screenwriter of Ocean's 12 and The Bourne Ultimatum. It's as complicated as his last two, but more focused on its message.

The film overall seems to be encouraging the viewer to deviate from the path set out for them (which directly refers to religion, as everyone in the film is controlled by "the book" which certainly is a symbol for the bible). I love the idea and the message, but, as much as I want to, I just don't buy it. I found the film too filled with ideas, and plot complications. I don't buy into some of the decisions of the characters (which applies equally to the actors and Nolfi).

SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!! Don't go on!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Tillman Story, B - a story of American culture

The Tillman Story, B

The Tillman Story is a very intriguing documentary. In short, it discusses Pat Tillman's role in the army and the government's false story of his death. One prevalent theme is the American tendency to fantasize situations to the point that the beauty in the truth is lost. Tillman's mother angrily points this out in court when she comments that Pat was a hero even though his death wasn't stereotypically heroic. What these guys do isn't pretty, it's dirty, bloody, and disturbing. They are heroes for doing it in the first place; you don't need to die for your comrades to be a hero. I think this is such an excellent point. One point Pat's younger brother emphasizes is that Pat didn't believe in religion. In this country we use religion as an escape from reality; it gives us meaning in a meaningless world. This is unfairly seen as a cynical and hopeless view; in reality, it's just honest. It doesn't imply negativity at all, that's just how a religious society taught us to think. The wonderful Sweedish duo First Aid Kit sings to my point in their song "Hard Believer" in which they sing, "I don't need... your meaning to feel free. I just live because I love to and that's enough you see."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Heathers: A phenomenal black comedy / teen movie satire

Heathers, A

What a phenomenal hilarious satire of teen comedies! I find it to be especially pleasing since I'll be watching a John Hughes movie tomorrow night at Northeastern University Film Enthusiasts' Club!! This film is potentially taking shots at John Hughes movies and others of similar nature. At first I wrote unmistakably (rather than "potentially") however I'm not sure the Hughes films fall prey to the specific things criticized in Heathers. My favorite is the general premise during which the lead character, your typical angsty high school girl (played hilariously by Winona Ryder), falls for the bad boy who makes her lose control. Normally this means that he convinces her into sex and the punishment is she gets pregnant. In Heathers, it means she murders people. Yeah, the film is pretty damn extreme. The costumes are hilarious and ridiculous, as is the dialogue. My favorite moment at the beginning sums up the experience of the film: the bad boy, played by Christian Slater, seems to be about to fight two jock assholes who are insulting him. Instead of pulling out his fists he pulls out a gun and shoots... we find out moments later that they were blanks. This movie is shocking, funny, and completely out of its mind. However, it's still overwhelmingly intelligent.

Should you see it?
Would you want to see a movie in which all your high school exaggerations are acted out?
The motto of the film: Death to the popular kids!

RED STATE: An ambivalently fun and terrifying horror flick

Red State, A-

Disclaimer: This is a review exclusively of the on-screen material and not the off-screen matters all of which are discussed in my previous post "alsdjflafsjd." I've spoken a lot about why this film is revolutionary but all of those have nothing to do with the content of the film.
ALSO, I will try my hardest to keep this free of plot spoilers.
Red State is perceived by many (rightfully so from the title and teaser) as an anti-conservative horror movie that's a progression in filmmaking ability for Kevin Smith but nothing too special. I was happy to discover that this film is in no way an attack on conservative America... it shows most characters (most importantly the religious fanatics and the cops) as morally questionable human beings. This aspect of the film kind of unfolds into one of the things that makes Red State special in the current marketplace (however it's nothing new as far as film history is concerned). Red State is brutally honest in its portrayal of many things. My favorite aspect is the coldness with which people die (okay so I guess it's a spoiler that there is in fact multiple deaths in a HORROR movie, I hope that doesn't suprise anyone). There are moments where people die and there's no grand significance. We don't focus in on the character and watch them fall in slo-mo as they cry and say their last words. It's just a moment of boom, gone, moving on. Sometimes you don't even mention them for the rest of it, and that's not because they're meaningless side characters. This quality of the film is one of its most disturbing. It stems from older horror films (the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes to mind) where the movies were about a crazy out of this world person/group of people...which is my way of saying Kevin Smith is NOT trying to show anyone as being this terrible. I'm not sure why else but it really makes me think about that Texas Chainsaw. That being said, I'm not putting them on equal ground (saying something isn't one of the greatest all time isn't an insult imo).

On the note of disturbing, I'd like to mention that I did not find it so (in not ridiculous language, the movie didn't disturb me). Unsettling a little but definitely not disturbing. This movie is a serious intelligent well-made horror film, but not like Black Swan or Antichrist. In fact (and I DO NOT mean this insultingly), I wouldn't call it a film. This is a straight up movie. It's a fun horror movie that is fun because of the content not because of how crappy it's made (like most wide release horror movies today). The entire crowd laughed many times throughout this film, it really does have Smith's usual humor. This is kind of shocking to think about at first, but the film is seriously a well-made horror movie that is clearly made by Kevin Smith in the respect that it is deifnitely infused with his personality.
I'll finish off with some more direct specific stuff:
My friend Jonny Glassman said it best: while the acting was excellent, the casting was superb. WELL DONE KEVIN. I personally think the acting was superb also. The film doesn't really have a lead it jumps around a lot of different characters but if there was any it'd be Michael Parks as Abin Cooper. Parks did such a great job not being over the top but having many subtle "moments of crazy" as he plays a pretty out of this world nuts character. John Goodman is good as always. Melissa Leo is also excellent as always. My favorite acting (aside from Parks) came from the 3 characters the film starts with, Travis, Jarod and Billy-Ray. In fact the film opens on a slightly unsettling shot of Michael Angarano (Travis). He's sitting in the passenger seat of his mom's car as she drives him to school. Something about his facial hair and the way DP David Klein (his best work I've ever seen) shot the moment/scene really affected me. I could feel the impending chaos that was to follow --> awesome job by Smith here. So yeah stellar jobs especially by Angarano and Kyle Gallner (Jarod). There's a scene I'd love to talk about but don't want to spoil. It's the scene when Gallner "wakes up." That's all I'll say. Angarano's final scene is really amazing too. The last performance I have to mention is Kerry Bishe as Cheyenne. Can't say anything without spoilers... JERSEYIANS, she's from Montclair!
This movie has a lot of action. He does these really awesome handheld (I guess... I've never held a camera so what do I know) chase sequences. I loved the way they were filmed and even more I loved the editing. It's funny that since Smith edited so quickly I'd expect that to be a weak aspect of the film... upon seeing the end product, that's one of the absolutely strongest parts of the film, especially those chases. I think he did a better job than his buddy Affleck did with action in The Town. 

So in conclusion: Red State is an excellent MOVIE. It's riveting because it doesn't pull any punches. The writing AND directing are high quality, and I will say again the ensemble acting is brilliant. 

In theaters October 19th! 

Paper Heart: An underrated film

Paper Heart, B+

I was scared going into this but I loved it. Cera’s awkward act is just annoying now however most other people in this film were excellent. Charlyne wasn’t very charming at first however by the end you really felt for her, I was overcome by sadness watching her I connected with her a lot. The actor playing Jasenovec did a fantastic job he and Charlyne had amazing chemistry. This film wasn’t cinematic, it didn’t follow a structure, it didn’t please you in the way other recent similar films did (Away We Go, (500) Days of Summer). The faux-documentary style made it feel completely and totally real. The film wasn’t as powerful as the other two quirky indie comedies I mentioned above as a whole however it had extremely powerful moments that have the potential to put you in tears.
That was more general, so my little commentary on the actual subjects of the film. I think the documentary crew and the way they reacted to it very successfully embodied the relationship between our personal relationships and society. Many lines of dialogue about how hard it is to always have people watching what you do and trying to force you along the typical path. There’s a part in the trailer that really brought this out in the film when fake Jasenovec runs over and tells Cera to put his arm around her.

Antichrist: The best horror film I've ever seen

Antichrist, A+
This is one of the most powerful and engaging films I’ve ever seen. I think it’s a film about depression. The story begins with the death of a man and a woman’s son, and then as a way to try and heal her grief they go to this woods area called “eden.” Essentially, the majority of the movie (the eden part) is a dreamy intensified view of depression, showing visually how one feels internally when they’re going through the roughest stages of grief. The whole Eden part is Trier exploring what “she,” Charlotte Gainsborgh’s character, was actually feeling at the very beginning. The film explicitly and disturbingly states the phases and results of depression. The fear, the feelings of helplessness. Most importantly, it discusses what depression does to those who try and help the grieving person. For the sake of not ruining the film for those who haven’t seen it I won’t substantiate my claims… Charlotte Gainsbourg gives possibly the best acting performance I’ve ever seen. If you’re not intrigued by this and don’t feel like you have to see it, then don’t. This is not for most people, and it is very hard to get through. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it because I’m sure it’ll run through my mind for the next month minimum but right now I’m ready to say it’s a near masterpiece that is a little too mysterious for its own good.

Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire - one of the best movies I've ever seen, and I thought I'd hate it


Precious, A+

I was expecting this film to be the typical urban mtv oprah movie type like Freedom Writers or any of that stuff. It absolutely wasn’t; this film runs much deeper than those because it’s really not THAT focused on the urban community. It’s more about personal strength. The film is very aware of all the stereotypical things it does and is more commenting on that than just following the mold. For example the teacher has some dialogue about unrelenting plots with unrelenting problems. By adding something like this it seems to me that the writers weren’t trying to show how awful things are in urban communities, they were using this fictitious backdrop (more over-exaggerated version of reality perhaps) to comment on personal strength. I think the reason I love the film so much is the writing… The writers really acknowledge everything, often times they sort of find little ways to give you guidance and talk to the audience directly. Like when Precious and her mom are having a conversation with the counselor, the counselor sort of functions as the audience, just listening and asking the questions we want to ask. Her emotions given every situation she’s in in the film mimic those that the writers probably expected from the audience. I feel like I’m just rambling… This film was written extremely well with pretty good directing and outstanding acting, I highly recommend it (which says a lot, I came in with a pretty negative attitude towards the film).

Obselidia: A Sundance gem sadly not coming to a theater near you


Obselidia, A-

Absolutely loved this film. It’s a really sweet film with that indie road movie feel that has a realistically optimistic view on the world. The film acknowledges that everyone’s life and the world itself will eventually die but it remains positive by appreciating everyday love and beauty (like sunrises in a beautifully shot sunrise scene). If you believe in positivity but also need things to be realistic, you will love this. Side note: AMAZING cinematography. 

Abel: Diego Luna's poignant debut


Abel, A

Surprisingly incredible! Everything about this was of the highest quality. The acting by children and adults is stellar (propelled by years of stage acting together), the cinematography is great, and even Diego Luna does an excellent excellent job. I’m not even sure why this all gelled together so way but it did. This film makes you feel and emote uncontrollably, I was among many wiping tears off their face in the end. The film is about family and abandonment. Definitely recommend seeing this one.

Here is a conversation via comments between a reader and I that I thought added a lot to the review: 

Eliza said: 
I loved this film at Sundance, and especially enjoyed the characteristics of Luna's direction that seem to include him in the pantheon of great Latin American filmmakers working right now (Innaritu, both Cuarons). The comedic elements seem to enhance the effectiveness of the story's tragedies rather than subverting them, and I think the cinematography coming out of Latin America right now is incredible.

I replied: 
Very interesting that you compare the film to Innaritu and the Cuarons. I personally like the way it diverges from them. I found Abel to be significantly more down to earth, and (I mean this in a positive way) less cinematic. Movies like 21 Grams, Babel, and Rudo y Cursi keep you at a distance, creating a feeling that you're been shown something. What Abel does which many of its fellow Sundance films often do so well, is invite you into its world in a very unpretentious fashion. Luna's greatest accomplishment that so many first time directors have trouble with, is letting the audience love the characters and be a part of their lives (not just watch them).

Jack Goes Boating: My favorite film from Sundance 2010


Jack Goes Boating, A-

 cried I cried I cried. I saw 14 films at Sundance, this is my favorite. Why? Well it elicited the strongest reaction and best overall experience. First of all the descriptions I had read did not lead me to believe this was going to be like it actually was. This is a serious film about relationships (sort of) with small bits of humor for comic relief (which are hilarious). It is a film about loneliness, fear, insecurity, but most importantly the looming fear of entering a relationship when you see so many others falling apart. I’d say this film’s message on that particular subject is very much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s really scary to enter a relationship because it’s (almost) inevitable that you will eventually lose interest with each other, start seeing flaws, and make mistakes. I can’t say this film is as good as that one but it’s certainly one to see. This is not Hoffman’s movie. This is a film that he steered but it thrives on a communal effort from every single person who worked on it. The ensemble acting is absolutely A+ as are the costumes, the cinematography, the writing, and yes even the directing. Don’t approach this as the next Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie, approach it as a play-style ensemble focused film about relationships.

Splice: A film that's highly intelligent if you look for it


Splice, A-

Here is an excellent excellent intellectual horror/thriller type film. I don’t mean it in the sense that the action or the imagery will disturb you (maybe a little) but the truth in the ideas. The film is most prominently about morality. The crucial moments when it disturbs you are moments where you see a character do something completely absurd and unheard of (which disgusts you) yet you’re even more disgusted by the fact that you probably would’ve been sucked into doing the same if you were in that situation. The filmmaking is brilliant, but not as brilliant as the writing. Brody is superb in this. High recommendation. I saw the world premiere and the majority was with my positive reaction.

ODDSAC - The Animal Collective Movie



Before Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion came along, Animal Collective began working on a film called ODDSAC. Sometimes referred to as a visual album, the 54-minute film was directed and edited by friend Danny Perez, a former roadie for Animal Collective opener Black Dice. Perez worked the lights on many of Animal Collective’s shows and performances, and choreographed and made costumes for their performance of their recent single “Summertime Clothes” on The Late Show with David Letterman. The film premiered on January 26, 2010 at Sundance Film Festival.
The film is a story told visually and sonically as opposed to through a narrative. The logic that moves the film from one scene to another is sensory; the connection between two scenes may be a particular feeling instead of recurring characters or events. ODDSAC meanders about numerous psychedelic visual scenarios; the opening scene depicts a wall bleeding oil, and one of the most shockingly clever scenes portrays marshmallows literally devouring a family. As made evident by the events occurring in the film, it is clearly not as accessible as recent work such as Merriweather Post Pavilion. ODDSAC is for open-minded audiences looking to venture into the peculiar. The film can be both humorous and terrifying, inviting a unique visceral experience.

Black Swan


Black Swan, A

In Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Prince Siegfried falls in love with a woman who is cursed as a white swan by day. He (thinks he) falls in love with her and decides that he will make her his wife. Later in the ballet at a ball, he mistakes a similar looking woman dressed in black as his love. He pronounces this black swan, as his future wife. Because of this mistake, Siegfried and the white swan can’t be together in this life. They decide the only way to be together is through death; they jump into the lake and drown. 
Darren Aronofsky recreates this tale in a stunning and even more tragic way. He acknowledges how truly alone both the Prince and the swan are. In Swan Lake it feels romantic that they die together, but really it’s devastatingly tragic, as Prince Siegfried couldn’t even recognize “the love of his life.” They don’t really die in the name of love; they die out of embarrassment, shame, and loneliness. In Aronofsky’s tale, a young ballerina becomes the prima ballerina in a new telling of Swan Lake in which both swans are played by the same dancer. This creates the cliché doppelganger of our innocent fragile vulnerable state and our lustful dark side. The main character Nina is in spirit still a child, living with her mother and striving to be her perfect little girl. Her room is decorated pink with stuffed animals and even a Swan Lake jewelry box. In the film Nina matures mainly under the supervision of the ballet’s director Thomas Leroy, played with binding power by Vincent Cassel (Irreversible, Ocean’s 12). Leroy controls even the camera from the very first moment he enters the screen. The camera is operated to near perfect by cinematographer Matthew Libatique, whose camera is also intimidated by Leroy, paralyzing the viewer as Nina is. Nobody in this story seems to be in control except for Leroy. The film feels like it’s being directed by Leroy and not Aronofsky. The only person in the film who is free is Beth, the former prima ballerina. Beth is a tattered old former Swan Queen who represents what Nina will inevitably become; she is broken and old, so she is no longer of value to the ballet company or to anyone. She lies in a hospital alone, where she probably will die. 

Red State: The First Real 21st Century Film

Red State: The First Real 21st Century Film

This is a bold and probably incorrect statement: Avatar wasn’t the future, it’s just the reimagining of the past. I think it’s a misconception to consider Avatar the future of film, and even more so to consider it the film that starts the 21st century. The 3D craze is just 1999.9 it’s not the 21st century. The 90s were about technological advancements, not the 2000s. We’re not passed that, but it’s not what characterizes this time period. Right now it’s all about taking the technology we’ve spent the last 20 years creating and buying, and finally learning how to use it. I personally believe that Kevin Smith stumbled upon the key to this mystery.
            Kevin Smith is a controversial cult filmmakers whose highlight titles include Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and now Red State (for full history see his IMDB page at I’m not going to write anymore about Smith’s history, I’m sure most of you know it (or don’t care).

Sundance describes his new film Red State as follows (from the 2011 program guide):

Ever since Clerks (cowinner of the Filmmakers Trophy at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival), Kevin Smith has been known for his sharp, subversive, comedic writing. He shifts from comedy to horror with Red State and aptly demonstrates that good writing transcends genre.
Red State begins by following three horny high-school boys who come across an online ad from an older woman looking for a gang bang. Boys being boys, they hit the road to satisfy their libidinal urges. But what begins as a fantasy takes a dark turn as they come face-to-face with a terrifying "holy" force with a fatal agenda.
Instead of relying on archetypes and predictable formulas, Smith meticulously fashions all-too-real characters, utilizing exceptional performances (notably by Michael Parks) and an intelligent script. His realistic style gives the film an intimate feeling, heightening the terror to biblical proportions. Red State is a shocking new kind of horror film that aggressively confronts higher powers and extreme doctrines with a vengeance.

The content of the film is not important, in fact it’s completely irrelevant to the reason this film is the real first 3D film (at least in the 21st century sense). The first notable reason this film takes a step forward is the distribution style. Smith is releasing the film himself, through his podcast network Smodcast. Usually, a film is sold to a studio that would spend more money marketing the film than the film cost in the first place (extremely likely in this particular situation). Smith’s idea is to release the film without a single marketing cost (I’m sure there will be a few minimal ones). As someone who worked in the industry, I can vouch for the uselessness of newspaper ads and billboards. It’s IMPORTANT to note that this is a discussion on indie film, for something like Transformers you need the mass branding.
            So then how the hell do you release the damn thing? How do people know? The first obvious forums for free promotion are reviews and interviews. Now the next important thing which Smith is very familiar with is appearing at screenings. He’s brilliantly taking the film on tour, which is quite simply using the festival style release. In BRIEF summary, festival style release focuses on good word of mouth for a long period of time. If Winter’s Bone didn’t play at Sundance and get all the audience members chatting, it would not be nominated for an Oscar. The benefit of doing this instead of playing at festivals is :
1) people are more concentrated on your movie (and not falling asleep because it’s the fifth they saw that day
2) You can take it where you want, when you want to. You are not at the whims of the festival.

However, as awesome as these things are they are NOT the real reason this film is the film for the 21st century (I’m underplaying the significance of the DIY (Do-it-yourself) release).

The reason this film is the first real three dimensional 21st century film is because of Kevin Smith’s Smodcast Network. Every single day he podcasts for at least an hour, speaking about many aspects of his life. He speaks so openly about not only every little aspect of his life, but also about all his films. What happens is it creates the Q+A director experience without needing to pay to go to a film festival! This Q+A format also comes back into play with Smith’s incessant use of his Twitter. Just from listening to his podcasts I feel like I know Kevin Smith on a personal level, which gives an incredible depth to the viewing experience. The most prominent proof of this is my recent viewing of old Smith film Clerks. The depth of understanding I got from what I’ve heard about the film but even more about who Kevin Smith is enhanced the experience tremendously. Even if Red State is an average film, it’s still much much more than that because it’s an experience. It’s an experience that started on November 8, 2010 with the first Red State of the Union Podcast. It won’t end AT LEAST until the release of the DVD. When I saw Avatar, it was at most a one-month thing. When it lost the Oscars to The Hurt Locker, it pretty much left everyone’s mind, certainly mine. So really again I emphasize, it doesn’t really matter if Red State sucks. Everything that’s happened in the last 3 months alone has added tremendous value to his other films and to the film industry. 

Where the Wild Things Are (no spoilers but you may want to wait till after see it)


I went to the 4th screening in the world!

This is why I think this is one of the best movies of the decade...

The way the film is approached has the potential to revolutionize the children's genre (and yes Roy, someone will follow him eventually, even if it takes 40 years like with Vashti Bunyan and freak folk). The film respects children by discussing with them, not talking down to them. The problem with Pixar movies and other conventional children's films (Don't get me wrong I love pixar..) is that they talk down to the viewer, assuming stupidity and just telling you what to think. There's an easy story and a clear cut moral in the end. What Wild Things does is it presents a situation but it doesn't tell you what to think. It just makes you aware of its existence, and the rest is yours. Wild Things is a rare type of film that actually asks you to interact with it by THINKING for yourself and coming to conclusion. A lot of people are going to hate this approach because a lot of people go to the movies for fun and/or escapism (which I don't have a problem with... I do it sometimes too). The point is, don't go into this expecting a Pixar movie.

2009 in film, a long and rewarding journey of mine


Yeah I'm dumb and posted these out of sequence. WHATEVER. New additions to be made... a sort of 2009 in film from this 2011 lens! Will post in future... unlike 2008 I already have over 100 viewings.

This is my best films of the year sort of “Brandon Awards” silly thing. As everyone seems to know, individuality and independence are important to me. Over the years I've always had trouble within myself battling with public opinion especially when it comes to film. There’s such a dominating presence from the Oscars and the few highly revered critics that it becomes hard to admit you like one over another. After the complete and total rejection of Revolutionary Road from the Oscars I felt rejected because I loved that movie so much and it had a major impact on my life. So in conclusion, this year I decided to set out on the journey of seeing all the “Oscar films” before the Oscar nominations came out. I wanted to make my own choices about what’s the best and which performances truly moved me. I changed some of the categories to ones I’m more comfortable with. From the large amount of films I’ve watched in 2009 I’ve learned more about the world and myself than probably than what I’ve learned from a full year of school. So just in case anyone is interested, this is my 2009 in film. (If you'd like any personal recommendations, just ask!)

Note: The only major film I haven’t seen is The Last Station which comes out after the Oscar nominations do so I’m finalizing this without it. 

Winners at the end! (the nominations are probably more important)

Best Picture (10): 
A Single Man, Antichrist, Avatar, Away We Go, The Cove, The Hurt Locker, The Messenger, Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, Up in the Air, Where the Wild Things Are

Honorable Mentions: A Serious Man, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Invictus, The Lovely Bones

Best Director: (I'm sorry I did so many, I was just madly in love with every single one of these directorial triumphs) 

Nominees: Tom Ford (A Single Man), Lars Von Trier (Antichrist), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are)

Honorable Mentions: Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man), James Cameron (Avatar), Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox), Clint Eastwood (Invictus), Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones), Oren Movermen (The Messenger), Lee Daniels (Precious) 

Male Acting Performance: 

Nominees: Colin Firth (A Single Man), George Clooney (Up in the Air, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Fantastic Mr. Fox), Patton Oswalt (Big Fan), Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are, The Brothers Bloom), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious man)

Honorable Mention: Nicolas Cage (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans)

Female Acting Performance: 

Nominees: Julianne Moore (A Single Man), Charlotte Gainsborgh (Antichrist), Sairose Ronan (The Lovely Bones), Monique (Precious), Gabby Sidibe (Precious), 

Honorable Mentions: Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated), Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria, Sunshine Cleaning)

Ensemble Cast: 

Nominees: Away We Go, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, The Lovely Bones, 
The Messenger, Precious
Honorable Mentions: A Serious Man, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Original Screenplay: 
Nominees: A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen), Avatar (James Cameron), Away We Go (Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida), The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson), The Messenger (Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman)

Honorable Mention: It’s Complicated (Nancy Meyers)
NOTE: Yes, Avatar for Screenplay. I will fight this to the death. Dialogue is the least important part of the screenplay. Cameron's story may be generic but the plot structure is done to perfection. The poignant moments would not be poignant without the brilliant plot structure (again, not original, but excellent). 

Adapted Screenplay: 

Nominees: In the Loop (Armstrong and Blackwell), Invictus (Anthony Peckman, John Carlin), The Men Who Stare at Goats (Peter Straughan, Jon Ronson), Precious (Sapphire, Geoffrey Fletcher), Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Walter Kirn)

Overall Art Direction: (10) (Sound, lighting, editing, cinematography, costumes, etc.): 

Nominees: A Serious Man, A Single Man, Antichrist, Avatar, The Brothers Bloom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Moon, Nine, Where the Wild Things Are

Honorable Mentions: Bronson, (500) Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker, The Lovely Bones, Public Enemies, Watchmen

Documentary: (seen 11)
Nomineees: Anvil! The Story of Anvil, The Cove, Good Hair

Animated Feature: 9, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mary and Max, Ponyo, UP

THE WINNERS (in reverse order):

Animated Feature: Fantastic Mr. Fox - Here I award bold risk and "pure wild animal craziness" over superior use of technology coupled with tired ideas.
Runner up: UP

Documentary: The Cove - One of the most powerful and essential films of the year, should be at the top of your Netflix Queue.

Overall Art Direction: All ten of these deserve to win it's too hard to choose but I will anyway...
MOON - driven by a masterful score by Clint Mansell, Duncan Jones created something really special here. Notable performance by Sam Rockwell too.
Runner Up: Antichrist - See this one if you're a masochist. 

Adapted Screenplay: PRECIOUS (easy choice). I read the book and was amazed by how Fletcher maintained Sapphire's profound poeticism while still condensing the story. 
Runner Up: Up in the Air

Original Screenplay: The Brothers Bloom - A hard choice to make, probably the one I'll be most condemned for on this list. Johnson's screenplay has layer after layer after layer of partial mystery. The characters are all conning each other, and Johnson's conning the viewer, but then he is and he isn't. It's just mind boggling to me how under appreciated this film is. 
Runner Up: A Serious Man - do I have to justify a Coen Screenplay? Flawless

Ensemble Cast: Precious - Monique, Gabby Sidibe, Mariah Carey, Paula Patton, AND Lenny Kravitz all stunned me. Lee Daniels knows how to pick em and direct em too. Another easy choice.
Runner Up: The Messenger - The movie is centered around the all the moral conflicts and difficulties faced by the three main characters played by Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, and Samantha Morton. To say this is a poignant film is an understatement. Even all the one scene roles of people acting as families receiving the "bad news" astonished me. Amazing film, another one that doesn't get the credit it deserves. 

Female Acting Performance: Charlotte Gainsbourgh (Antichrist). Easily the single most shocking and incredible performance by an actress I've ever seen. I bow down to Charlotte.
Runner Up: Charlotte Gainsbourgh
Second Runner Up: Monique (Precious) for making the most hate-able character of the year round and complex

Male Acting Performance: Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) - watch this clip and all is explained -
Runner Up: As a single performance, Patton Oswalt in Big Fan. As the conglomerate I made it in the nominations, George Clooney for his three excellent nominatable roles (even the voice acting).

Best Director: Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are) - Spike creates his third movie, his third masterpiece. Every picture on the internet of this film is an example of how unique and still powerful Spike is as a director. He's not different to be different, he's just a genius with his own vision. His ability to get Max Records to the emotional layers he got him to are unbelievable. Somehow he successfully adapted one of the most unadaptable books I've ever read. Spike is probably my greatest inspiration, so yes this is biased.

Runner Up: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) - She deserves the Oscar, hopefully the sexist academy won't disappoint this year (like they usually do). I had chills for days after I saw this, my entire body was in knots. This better dominate the Oscars.

BEST PICTURE: I feel awful not choosing some of these but I can't choose them all. I'm picking three. My criteria is based on a few things. First and more normal, I'm basing my choice on the general appreciation of the films and my personal interaction with them. Second, more importantly and controversially, seeing how many people a films affected and how dramatically is important here too (it's not just about me, and it's not just about how well it's made)

Note: I refuse to consider Where the Wild Things Are to be a winner because I'm way too personally attached to compare it to others. I've never spent nearly as much time with a film, it's my personal #1 (possibly of all time, I switch around too frequently to say). So really these are the top 3 of 9. 

Second Runner Up: Avatar - at this point Avatar has made $1,372,993,105. This movie is not as powerful or as good as many of the films mentioned and I also wasn't as "wowed" by the technology as much as most. However, this is an intelligent and powerful film. I can talk about the Hurt Locker all day but it doesn't have the power of Avatar because people didn't go to the movies and see it. Avatar was not chosen for a moment because of it's visual prowess. I chose Avatar because it is an excellent film that people are seeing. It's a major budget picture that's not moronic (*cough* Transformers *cough*). In a time where the middle class of the film industry is dying, we need the big budget pictures to step up and challenge people intellectually while still entertaining. 

Runner Up: Away We Go - Another one people would discredit me for. If it wasn't for all the people I've met who cite this as a favorite film I wouldn't have done this. This movie has been on my mind since the moment I saw it back in June. I really can't even count how many people told me how uplifted and hopeful this film made them. It's actually sort of shocking. The weird thing is I don't know how to rationalize it either. The thing we (the people who loved this) are mostly starting out in life. We don't know where to go, or what to do, or how to handle responsibility. This film helped us look upon the daunting "road of life" ahead, and still hope for happiness. 

WINNER: Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire

Many people, myself included, have cited the second part of the title to be ridiculous and stupid. After reading the novel I get why they did it (the word "push" is emphasized often). This story is about pushing yourself in spite of all else. This film isn't trying to be realistic, Precious' problems are absurdly unrelenting. It's about facing each problem one at a time and making the best of what you've been given. There's love and beauty all around us, you just have to keep your head up and look for it. At the beginning of the movie Precious, an obese poor black teenage girl, looks in the mirror and imagines a skinny white girl with smooth silky blonde hair. At the conclusion of the film, she looks in a mirror and sees an overweight poor black teenage girl. She says to herself, "ok." This is what this project of mine is all about. Not trying to be like people want you to be, choose the "right" films and portray myself as smart or equal or anything. It's about being honest with yourself and being ok with that, loving that. I'm sure no one has read this whole thing or cares really, but that's not the point. Just my attempt at finding some honesty, some of the real me. Even though this will never get back to a single one of these people, I'd like to thank every participant in every film cited in this award thing for creating something that has touched my life. In addition to those, some other films I loved that didn't make the cut but DID touch my life are:
The Hangover, Whatever Works, Bruno, Harry Potter 6, Paper Heart, Bright Star, Food Inc, The Girlfriend Experience, Broken Embraces, The White Ribbon, Jennifer's Body (weird, I know), Brothers, Zombieland, Me and Orson Welles, and Adam.