Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An interview with Dean Fleischer-Camp, director of Marcel the Shell with Shoes on

Marcel the Shell with Shoes on is about an eccentric “univalve mollusk shell with one eye and pink shoes (Wikipedia)” that walks us through a few aspects of his daily life in the form of “rough cut footage from an in-progress documentary (Wikipedia).”

The film had its official premiere at AFI Fest 2010, where it went on to win Best Animated Short. A few months later it played in competition at Sundance 2011.

You can find the film on the director’s official website here or on Youtube
where it has over 9 million views.

Director Dean Fleischer-Camp and the film’s writer / voice actor (/Dean's girlfriend) Jenny Slate are currently writing a "Marcel" themed children's book called Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Things About Me that will be released on November 1, 2011.

You can also find Dean at his Twitter. I also recommend following Jenny at her Twitter account.

1. What were some of your influences on this film, and/or what are some of your
favorite films in general?

Typically my favorite movies are movies that are funny but wouldn't be categorized as "comedies." Jonathan Demme, Aki Kaurismäki, Milos Forman, Jacques Tati, and Roy Andersson are some of my favorites. Hollywood these days is all about shoehorning this movie to be just like that (previously successful) movie, so it means there are a lot less comedies with real intelligence, integrity, heart, etc. The Coen Bros & Paul Thomas Anderson I think still manage to make really funny, meaningful films within the mainstream. I guess their movies aren't really considered hilarious by most people, but they are! e.g. There's a scene in Magnolia where William H. Macy accidentally drives his car really slowly into a 7-11 and I die laughing literally every time I watch it. Of course, other parts of that movie are so heavy intense they will make you crumple. The last time I watched it was in June and I got diarrhea.
Marcel was a little project Jenny & I made quickly and for fun, so dedicating too much serious thought to its INFLUENCES might be a mistake. That said, a few people have told me it *feels* sort of like a Nick Park film and that's an incredibly flattering comparison which I am obviously quick to accept and then bandy about on every blog that asks.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Inception, a journey in finding the ability to trust

Inception, A

Note: As with my take on The Social Network, I will try and avoid all the things that have been said before (or said often) about this film. The point of this is to provide what I hope is an interesting distinct perspective, not a re-hashing of the plot or other reviews. Hope you enjoy.

Also, I WILL NOT mention spoilers because this film has been in theaters, on DVD, and discussed incessantly. I can’t imagine anyone reading this hasn’t seen the film.

At its core, Inception is a film about control. Dom Cobb is what one may call a “control freak.” He plans his jobs meticulously with almost unfathomable intricacy. This perfectionism is what’s keeping him from being with his family, and in turn, from being happy.

Cobb is such a tense erratic character he almost feels schizophrenic. As he moves from city to city, and between dreams and reality, he loses his ability to control his own mind. We see DiCaprio and Nolan manifest this in a large variety of ways. First, DiCaprio’s eyes are always chaotically darting around. Second and more importantly, Nolan fills this film with crumbling buildings within collapsing dreams. This is my favorite visual representation of Cobb’s mind, as it’s seen at the beginning in Saito’s dream within a dream, and near the end in limbo (which notably looked new and flawless when he was comfortably in love with his wife and not being chased by governments and corporations).

Eliza's Take: Mary Last Seen

Every scene in Sean Durkin’s short film "Mary Last Seen" is eerily confining, beginning with the first shot. On a highway, surrounded by opaque forests and an imposing overcast sky, the main characters reveal themselves through a few lines of opening dialogue. Her boyfriend silences Mary’s childlike singing, a foreboding and foreshadowing rendition of the Beatles’ “Golden Slumber.” Immediately revealed as a controlling force, he uses affectionate language to obscure the rather intimidating nature of his speech: “Babe, that is very pretty but it’s a bit early for singing.” Her boyfriend’s exertion of control parallels the imprisoning effect of the cinematographer’s (Drew Innis) framing, both of which characterize Mary’s imminent fate.

The shots and dialogue continue to impose throughout the film on the passive and generally unresponsive Mary. Neither her body nor her voice is her own; she is told to take her clothes off, to speak, to walk. The camera often seems to rush her along; later in the film, when the couple walks through a field, most of the space is filled with the boyfriend and the landscape ahead. She follows too slowly to remain entirely in-frame. In an early sex scene, the boyfriend holds Mary against a truck-stop bathroom wall, and Durkin doesn’t allow us to see Mary’s face. Eclipsed by her hair, her boyfriend, and her environment, Mary becomes an object upon which these other dynamic forces act.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the video game movie

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, A

As per usual, I’m going to ignore a lot of components of this film in order to get at points I don’t hear discussed very often.

Summary of ones I’m ignoring:
a) Very funny
b) Amazing action
c) Awesome music
d) Ridiculously fun experience
e) The graphic novels are amazing also

Scott Pilgrim, strangely like Mark Zuckerberg, is a representation of an aspect of The Facebook Generation. He’s a result of the way this group was raised with a silver spoon. There are very few Facebook teenagers with Zuckerberg’s drive because we’re used to never really being in danger. If school gets hard and the class does poorly, the grades are curved (everyone in the class gets extra points so people have higher grades). If a kid is having a hard time, they’re placed into a more comfortable situation. If we want that brand new cell phone or iPod, we often times get it. Edgar Wright is suggesting that very many of us are indifferent, lacking passion.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Social Network, the best film of 2010

The Social Network, A+

I’m going to try and stick to ideas and comments that haven’t been made 300 times (or if they have, I’m actually going to justify them, which is often not the case). On the note of reality vs. fiction, I will say right now that I will not address the question about what is or isn’t real. Frankly, I don’t care; it gets at deeper human truths that are tremendously important in this day and age.

This film succeeds on every level for me; it’s extremely entertaining and intellectually invigorating. I really can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it, at least 6. On my 2010 in film note, it won Best Picture and Best Actor (Eisenberg), and was nominated for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Art Direction and Best Trailer. Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher and Jesse Eisenberg created one of the most fascinating characters in recent cinema history. Zuckerberg is an absolutely tremendous character. Every tiny detail down to his costume is unbelievably powerful. My personal favorite is his (as Eduardo refers to them) “fuck you flip flops.”

The genius of The Social Network is that as Peter Travers claims, it defines The Facebook Generation. It discusses this in a very subtle way, which is simply juxtaposing The Facebook Generation characters and the older characters. No point in the movie shows this more clearly than the sequence in which Fincher cuts between Zuckerberg programming FaceMash drinking with his friends and the sexy energetic Harvard Final Club party. It establishes two different worlds at that time; there's the old world in which people spend time with one another (with a concentration in the scene on sexuality) and a new world in which we sit in front of a computer and "pretend" to be together. The reason this film defines our generation is that it exposes the manner in which social networking drives our isolation. We call it efficiency, thus leading to a better life. The Social Network, and myself, would argue that through social networking we’re losing our connection to one another. We are able to maintain more relationships, however those relationships are much more shallow, and in turn, significantly less valuable. 

Your Highness, a misfiring enjoyable comedy

 Your Highness, C

This will be a very brief review (filled with sighs and shrugs).

Your Highness is just plain okay. It’s enjoyable, but not engagingly satirical, as I’d hoped. It definitely didn’t feel like a cohesive piece, which is fine, I just have to admit I had higher expectations.

For full disclosure, I must admit I love the director David Gordon Green (George Washington, Pineapple Express), as well as the writer/star Danny McBride and the other stars James Franco (I don’t care if he wasn’t a good Oscar host, he’s the MAN), Zooey Deschanel, and of course the absolute best part of the movie Natalie Portman.

This movie brings back the Natalie Portman we saw in her SNL skit. She quite brilliantly riffs on the perception of purity the world seems to have of her, via playful but almost unsettling violence. I don’t really have anything else to say (remember, avoiding spoilers on this one), she just deserves her own paragraph because she made this movie for me.

On that note however, there really isn’t much to say. It was enjoyable, I did laugh, but it certainly didn’t engage my intellect. That really is all I have to say, pleasant indifference. Go if you like those actors, otherwise you’ll just be miserable. 

Source Code, an intellectually and emotionally compelling sci-fi action thriller

Source Code, A-

Source Code is the new film from Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son who makes his big studio follow-up to (deservedly) well acclaimed indie film Moon. I’m going to avoid writing about the plot as to not spoil it, and to be clear just about every aspect of the plot would be a spoiler.

Here’s a decently spoiler free bit SXSW wrote about the film’s plot:
“When soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. In an assignment unlike any he’s ever known, he learns he’s part of a government experiment called the “Source Code,” a computer program that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life.”

While Inception is certainly a stronger more innovative film, Source Code does exactly what Inception failed to do, pull deeply at my heart. Inception sadly fell into caricatures, however Source Code’s tight writing (by Ben Ripley) drew vivid interesting and surprisingly subtle characters who all fascinated me. Jake Gyllenhaal of course lead the pack, but Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga turned in equally compelling performances. 

127 Hours, a story of a man who finally had time to sit and think

127 Hours, A-

127 Hours is the true story of Aron Ralston, a mountain climbing enthusiast who’s arm was stuck between a boulder and canyon wall in Utah. He famously had to sever his arm with rudimentary tools in order to survive. He released his tale in his memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which the film was adapted from.
In order to tell this very simple and gruesome tale, Boyle employs extreme style to tell this story. I’m a bit off put by this choice, because the frantic editing at certain points makes me feel, as an audience member, like the director himself was bored with this material. I wish he just kept the story simpler.

That being said, Danny Boyle and his crew (especially DP’s Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak, and Editor Jon Harris) are still the true stars of this film. After all that unnecessary visual dazzle, Boyle hit me with his first striking cinematic technique; as Ralston leaves his encounter with two ladies, Kristi and Megan, Boyle puts the camera in Franco’s face and starts playing loud fast paced music. After, he suddenly cuts away and we hear the music from his headphones at a distance, setting up that his “coolness” is really just in his head and will probably be his downfall (which of course we know is what happens). 

James Franco does a truly tremendous job, but that’s no surprise. He turns in what I’d call his 3rd best performance, after Howl and Milk. Favorite moment of his is the kind of “morning show” he does for himself with the camcorder. Moving on, he and his character (in a fashion that gets a little too close to corny, as is often the case with Boyle) portray two very important things. More obviously, he is an example of the triumph of the human spirit, a true American hard worker willing to do anything to succeed. This has been discussed at length, so I’d rather concentrate on the latter. 127 Hours points out how rare it is that we take the time to stop and reflect on what we’re doing with our lives and why. Imagine just taking out more time, perhaps maybe one day a month, to really reflect on who you are, where you’re going, and how you’d feel about your life if you died today. If we did this, we’d have more of these pertinent existential experiences like Aron did. 

Check out the Official Website here!

Holy Rollers, a musing on faith vs. blind faith

Holy Rollers, B+

Holy Rollers is a character drama about faith, or faith vs. blind faith. The best part about this film for me is Kevin Asch’s patient unobtrusive camera. Instead of throwing in stylistic flourishes and overcomplicating things like so many first time directors do, he really just lets the world exist and lets the actors drive the emotions of the film.
         Holy Rollers is about a Hasidic Jew named Sam, played excellently as always by Jesse Eisenberg, who kind of has to choose between the pure religious life of his family and the decadent high paying drug-peddling lifestyle of his friend Yosef, played surprisingly well by Justin Bartha (humorous sidekick Riley in National Treasure). While Sam is happy with the comfort of his family, he also wants money so that they can have a better life.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

An Interview with Screenwriter Antonio Macia, on his Sundance 2010 film Holy Rollers starring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Bartha

Here is my conversation with Antonio Macia, the screenwriter who penned the 2010 Sundance film Holy Rollers. His first film, Anne B. Real, was nominated for two Independent Spirit awards including the John Cassavetes Award (awarded to a film with a budget under $500,000), and Best Debut Performance (Janice Richardson). His film Holy Rollers, newly on Netflix Instant Watch, is a story about a young Hasidic jew (played excellently by Jesse Eisenberg) who is seduced into smuggling ecstasy by his neighbor Yosef (played equally well by Justin Bartha, who's famous for his role as Riley in National Treasure). Expect a review of Holy Rollers to follow in the coming week. 

Brandon: You’re the son of South American immigrants, you served a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and you’ve studied in Paris, Madrid and Argentina. You then made your first movie about a young female rapper, which you were nominated for at the Independent Spirits. What drew you to a story of Hasidic Jews in NYC?
Antonio: Yes, I was interested by Hasidism, but ultimately, I knew that I could never do that world justice. I could do my best at ‘getting the facts’ right, but there are so many different sects. I was interested in Hasidism as an insular society, but I’m always asking myself ‘Why?’ I didn’t want to recreate a stereotype, but paint a real family with real problems.