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: bostonianonfilm@gmail.com

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: bostonianonfilm@gmail.com

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.  

Eliza's Take: Miranda July's The Future

Miranda July’s newest film venture, a beautiful and personal feature called The Future, maintains the same conversational explicitness, sexuality, strangeness, and intense intimacy characteristic of her first film, Me and You and Everyone We Know. July writes in a familiar tone to engage the audience in an extremely candid way.  The Future develops through these same kinds of communication: jokes, small talk, moments of physical intimacy or connection. 

July compliments this conversational tone with a symbolic level of communication in The Future, which she says pulls from her performance upon which the film is based.  At a roundtable discussion in which I participated last week, July discussed the importance of symbols in understanding meaning: big things often “aren’t based in tangible reality,” so July says her characters use metaphors or symbols to approach such big ideas. July and her co-star, Hamish Linklater, portray this anxiety with careful intensity, often holding onto small symbols like life rafts until the last possible moment.  Linklater’s character indulges genuinely in this clinging, while July’s character forces herself to not cling (down to the details: she even disconnects from the internet).  July described her own character, who portrays a strange yet familiar combination of selfishness and self-destructiveness, as “representing the qualities in myself of which I am most afraid.”

Sunday, May 1, 2011

An interview with Oscar winning writer/director Shaun Tan, on his animated short The Lost Thing

This Q+A is co-presented with the event NUFEC presents: A Short Film Showcase.

The film screened at this short film event, where it was discussed in-depth. I’d like to credit all the attendees for their participation, as many of these questions were inspired by (or straight up stolen from) the discussion.

Attendees included (but are not limited to):
Scott Carpenter, Hayley Dennis, Eric Evje, Emily Fisler, Jonny Glassman, Stephanie Morgan, Marcus Nero, Lauren Penizotto, Sid Phanis, Eliza Rosenberry, Grace Rosinsi, Jessica Sanchez, Robyn S, Kate Vatter, and Andrew Wood.

If you were there and are not on the list, please let me know (my memory is faulty, it was a month ago)!

NUFEC is Northeastern University’s film club, which meets Wednesday nights to watch a short film, a feature film, and discuss both. I’m currently the Vice President of this club and will try and bring many more awesome events like this short film showcase!

The Lost Thing is the 2010 film adaptation of Shaun’s own 2000 book of the same name. Shaun has written and illustrated 5 books, and illustrated an additional 10. One of his more recent books, The Arrival, is being worked into a film, which Shaun will discuss below (**note to NEU students, this book is in the library on display in “The Hub”).

The Lost Thing film is a 15-minute animated short, which is directed by both Shaun and Andrew Ruhemann. It was the Best Animated Short Oscar in 2011 (for the year of 2010), and was nominated for the 2011 Huge Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. You can watch the trailer for The Lost Thing and read more about Shaun Tan on his interactive and visual website, http://www.shauntan.net/. You can also buy the film for just $2 on iTunes… I promise it’s a small purchase well worth it.

First, let’s start with some of your history. How has your life informed this specific story? Did you draw any events or characters straight from experience or is this all fantasy?
That’s a big question, as I imagine that so much of my life does go into this story, in both a conscious and subconscious way. To pick out some specific examples: as a child I was very much into collecting and labeling things, and from my teens to my twenties I was very introverted. In fact, I spent far too much of my youth in a room, drawing and writing! I also had bad posture (still do a bit), and many other features that you see in the main character of the film and original book. Part of the idea behind ‘The Lost Thing’ has to do with overcoming introversion, but it’s also based on memories of our family’s first cat, a stray that nobody wanted. We didn’t necessarily want a kid (well, secretly us kids did), but there really were no other options for this animal. The ‘feeding scene’ in the back shed reminds me of how we got this cat to like us, enough to not want to run away.