Thursday, December 13, 2007

Le Scaphandre et le papillon

THE DIVING BELL and the BUTTERFLY (Le Scaphandre et le papillon) (dir. Julien Schnabel, France, 2007, 112 mins.) It is a work of art and one of my favorite experiences of the year. Director Julien Schnabel, screenwriter Ronald Harwood and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski have adapted Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir and created something so specifically cinematic, it gave me visual goosebumps and emotionally choked me up, more than once. Neither the synopsis, the press or, particularly the lackluster poster, prepared me for the journey.

After the expressionistic opening credits, Schnabel opens the film by being quite literal to the situation. However, he achieves it through visually avant garde means. The opening sequence, in which Bauby opens his eyes, is straight out of Stan Brakhage's experimental work, or as he referred to it, "personal cinema". This (unintentional?) homage to Brakhage's 'personal cinema' perfectly frames the point-of-view that we will be experiencing for the majority of the next two hours, both visually and poetically. Schnabel maintains that first person POV almost relentlessly. He visually traps the audience in the 'paralyzed' frame, as is the character trapped in his paralyzed body. Though the flashbacks and dream sequences might have been meant as dramatic and visual relief from the extremity of the POV, I for one was so emotionally involved in "being" Bauby, that I found these moments to be more distracting and stylistically disjointed. I was so fascinated by the cinematography and editing (Juliette Welfling) involved in maintaining the 'first person', that breaking away from it, in a cinematically conventional sense, also broke me away from the unique visceral experience I felt when trapped in Bauby's world.

Ronald Harwood's screenplay transcends a literal adaption of the memoir and becomes an auditory meditation. The complexity of the layering of language, provides a verbal soundtrack, as the repetition of the alphabet (minor spoiler there) becomes a meditative drone underscoring the scenes in which Bauby communicates with the world. Harwood's gradual revelation of the physical appearance of the man who was the editor of ELLE, to himself, is suspensefully articulated. Harwood slowly introduces us to the exterior of Bauby in almost the same way and pacing that a monster would be introduced in a horror film.

The technical and artistic achievements that Schnabel and his crew created nearly overshadow the performances. For the most part, the cast is as much a technical part of realizing Schnabel's vision as anything else in the production. Mathieu Amalric's performance as Bauby is mostly narration. There can be an argument about the outrageous challenge of portraying a character whose only movement is his left eye. However, Amalric is given the opportunity of physical choices during the flashbacks, where, as I stated earlier, these scenes are almost so conventional that the thrill of the challenges during his 'present' are missing. However, Amalric does have a couple scenes with the ever incredible Max Von Sydow as his father. (How old is he?!)

The rest of the cast has the challenge of playing directly into the camera. Emmanuelle Seigner plays the emotionally complicated role of his partner and mother of his children. She carries the responsibility of revealing the emotional life he lived before the stroke. Marie-Josee Croze, as his speech therapist Henriette, has the technical challenge of delivering the "alphabetic drone" through out her scenes, yet maintaining an emotional connection, which she succeeds at.

If there is anything a tad annoying, it is the sub-titling during the exceptionally specific moments when he is communicating with the outside world. Due to the requirements of translating letter by letter, the language and subtitling are necessarily out of sync. I would have preferred a literal subtitle of the letters, followed by the English translation of the word.

Once the film enters the section of Bauby dictating his memoirs, it focuses more on the extraordinary, if near miraculous achievement, instead of the tedious, if not nearly excruciating process. However, the outrageous cinematic technique, as well as the physical exertion that created the memoir itself, is what grants forgiveness to the simplistic, if not nearly trite, allusion to 'the diving bell and the butterfly'.

Maxxxxx says

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

MY Sweeney Todd Trailer

MY Sweeney Todd Trailer on the Sweeney Todd MySpace...

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007


SWEENEY TODD: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (dir. Tim Burton, US, 2007, 115 mins.) This may be the most violent and bloody film I have ever seen. This may be the most gorgeously orchestrated film I have ever heard. Tim Burton has taken a stage opera, with violence, and set it on end: it is a violent story, with some opera within it. It could be the realization of nearly any stage director who has wrestled with it. And I think Johnny Depp's performance IS the realization of any actor who has portrayed 'Sweeney'.

As I was watching, I was making mental notes, nearly measure by measure, about the choices the production was making. By the end, I was so overwhelmed by the bloodlust, that I was lost in Depp's cathartic "Final Sequence". It is a HUGE performance, that would easily play to the back of any theater. His Oscar prospects are looming large, as may Burton's, this time.

Helena Bonham Carter's 'Lovett' is much slower to grow into the monstrous cohort. I'm just not sure what she (and/or Burton's) take on Mrs. Lovett was. Initially, I thought she might have chosen to underplay the role in contrast to Depp's balls-out performance. But I think she was performing around her complete lack of vocal power in the music. Her "Little Priest" actually seems shy, if not tentative. Dramatically, it is THE MOMENT that Lovett finds her path to connect to Todd's obsession. It is a moment of joy for her, yet Carter never seems to make a connection with Depp that would provide the groundwork for the revelation during "Final Sequence". That said, the one moment the two of them actually play off each other is during "By the Sea", which is at its best, an homage to the world Burton created for "Pee Wee Herman".

The cast of Sweeney's antagonists, Alan Rickman as 'Judge Turpin', Timothy Spall as 'Beadle Bamford' and Sascha Baron Cohen as 'Pirelli' are all OUTSTANDING! Rickman is not that far from being 'Professor Snape' in a different wig, but he is still totally creepy. Spall's 'Beadle' is a fabulous mixture of violence and greasiness. But it is Baron Cohen who is able to steal every frame he is in. The character is written with the advantage, since he must make a definitive impression before becoming the earliest victim. However, Baron Cohen applies a surprising depth within the two short scenes he appears in. Vocally, Rickman and Baron Cohen are in fine voice. Spall's 'Beadle' has been whittled down to just a few phrases from "Ladies In Their Sensitivities".

'Anthony' (Jamie Campbell Bower), 'Johanna' (Jayne Wisener) and 'Begger Woman' (Laura Michelle Kelley) are present, but just barely, as their roles are reduced from fleshed out sub-plots to just tools to be used by Sweeney in obtaining his revenge. Then there is 'Tobias', played by Ed Sanders, who is probably the youngest if not the most age appropriate actor to ever perform the role. Regardless of his arguable talent, just his physical presence firmly roots the story into a Dickensian period. He is 13 years old, though he appears to be much younger, he is such an anomaly to the rest of the surrounding cast, that he actually becomes the audience's moral link towards the conclusion. He is also a really good vocal match to Carter's whispy voice in "Nothin's Gonna Harm You", which he delivers with 'Oliver!' like gusto.

The look of the film is fairly monochromatic, with the exception of 'Pirelli' and, of course, the blood. It is a case of the poster art perfectly representing the palette of the piece it is selling. Burton's penchant for extremes in production design (by Dante Ferretti) is in full play here. The present is in grays and blacks. The past is in gold tones and the future ("By The Sea") reaches cartoon-like brightness. Colleen Atwood's costume design is just as extreme.Her dresses for the status climbing Lovett are limited only by the bleak palette. Director of photography, Dariusz Wolski, whose previous work includes "The Crow" and "The Pirates of the Carribean" trilogy, is able to break open even the most theatrical of moments. His shooting of "Epiphany" is particularly spectacular.

Musically, nearly note remains intact, whether it is sung or not. Burton and adapter John Logan have eliminated Stephen Sondheim's choruses. "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" proves to be cinematically unessential, though the music itself is the perfect opening credit music. The choruses within "Pirelli's Miracle Elixer" and "God That's Good" have been excised, also, though for reasons of style and perhaps clarity for the principals, than timing, as the music plays wordlessly under the scenes. The "City on Fire" passages in "Final Sequence" are appropriately cut, as they served to provide scene changes on stage, as did the "Ballad...". The trimming of verses here and there are obviously made for the sake of pacing, though one might feel teased, or at worse, watching a Cliff Notes version of the play. However, the inclusion of nearly every note and word of Sweeney's vocals will placate most of the 'Todd-heads' and maintains the integrity of the adaptation.

Now, finally, a few words about the publicized 'hook' regarding the "Graphic Violent Content." If Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" made you squirm, you will not make it to the end of this film. "Johanna - Act 2" (or what was the "Johanna Trio" on stage, now a duet between Todd and Anthony) is one of the most gruesome sequences I've rarely experienced on film. Even the disposal of the bodies is photographed with gruesome realism! By the time that "Final Sequence" begins, I was wondering how, or if, Burton was going to bring the film to climax, considering the amount of violence we are exposed to leading up to it. The final confrontation between Sweeney and Judge Turpin, does indeed upstage all of the violence that preceded it. By the time the camera pulls back from the final tableau, the audience was audibly stunned into a silence. There was a smattering of applause, but for the most part, I could have sworn that the theater took a collective sigh of relief that the violence had come to an end. In fact, after seeing "Final Sequence" played out on screen in such realistic detail, it is hard to imagine it having been performed on stage, eight times a week for years.

Perhaps that is the film's surest sign of artistic success. By the end of the film, so comprehensive is Burton's cinematic vision of the play, that it is hard to imagine seeing it performed with such depth, style and, yes, that word again, catharsis, as what he and his cast have created here.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Present Tense

In the Holiday Spirit, John Harden ("la vie d'un chien" SFFS 2005) has created and posted the following:Present Tense


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Friday, November 30, 2007

Damage Done

DAMAGE DONE (dir. Roy Burdine, US, 2007) If you are feeling overwhelmed by holiday bliss, then here is the perfect antidote! "Damage Done" is unrelenting as it follows the tragic trajectory of a co-dependent relationship between two people attempting to save each other: one from the pain of his past and from the pain of her present. As emotionally bleak and painful as the story is, the film itself is stirringly shot and edited with a fabulous score by Force Theory and songs by Zachariah and the Lobos Riders. I don't know whether it was my need to look away from the 'car wreck', but I began to notice director Roy Burdine's excellent coverage and editing through out. The rapid cutting and spurning of continuity gives the film something of a dream (or nightmare?) quality. This exceptional technique helps make witnessing the personal implosions on screen a bit easier. Zach Selwyn delivers a WIDE character arc that descends into a relationship hole that isn't necessarily foretold when we first meet him. In fact, re-watching his entrance after he takes his last, tragic beat, is something of a revelation as to his performance. The object of his struggle is played by Bonnie Warner, whose character is something of a cipher, considering the amount of territory she is required to cover. In fact, it is the inclusion of all the various plot points (a gun, drugs, mothers...) that at one point confused me a bit, but at another, keeps the film from becoming dull and painful.

It is not an easy viewing. However, given the emergence of 'mumblecore' within the indie film market, DAMAGE DONE gives a good JOLT away from the navel gazing!

Maxxxxx says
re DAMAGE DONE: "Such a cranky bird!"

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TLA Releasing: "Naked Boys Singing" and "Socket"

TLA Releasing has a couple fun flicks in their pipeline. First, coming out on DVD this Tuesday from TLA Releasing is a nifty stocking stuffer, all puns intended!

NAKED BOYS SINGING (dirs. Robert Schrock, Troy Christian, USA, 2007, 83 mins.) This is something of a video record of the little revue that has played Off-broadway for ten years. However, note that this is NOT a recording of THAT production, but a staging specifically for this film. That will probably matter only to the purists or to those wanting a 'souvenir' of the production, as the piece itself is not exactly "Les Miserables", but a nice, fluffy bit of "gratuitous nudity" (as the opening number doesn't hesitate to proclaim). There are nearly a dozen writers credited, including Bruce Vilanche, who apparently all contributed to the lyrics. I thought perhaps a skit or dialog had been cut, but the film actually runs LONGER than the play does! However, since it is a revue, there is room for material to have been added and cut during its ten year run. (I have not seen a stage production, by the way.) The songs run from fun-and-campy to cabaret-like sobering, with some piano bar show tunes in the mix. Some pieces such as "The Bliss of a Bris" and "Perky Little Porn Star" are a delight! However, it is when it tries to take itself seriously that the piece lags. Though far from a musicalized "Puppetry of the Penis", it does try to transcend its basic premise: 10 naked guys trying to make you smile! It is not unlike a gay "Oh! Calcutta!", though the creators would like to think otherwise. The cast is exceptionally likable and display a professional level of talent that might be unexpected given the exploitative nature of the piece. The original creator and director, Robert Schrock appears to have guided the cast, though co-director and choreographer Troy Christian is responsible for its transition to film.

The film was shot digitally and, due to the musical nature, the sound is nearly completely synced, which is more than noticeable at times. Since it is a live performance, one would have hoped for more of a live recording, sound-wise. However, since there is limited (if any!) body mic possibilities, there was the necessity of looping nearly the entire film, which slightly takes away from the performance aspect.

The DVD comes with a "making of..." that is nearly as long as the feature! It is an exceptionally thorough featurette, including some behind the scenes drama with the cast - always appreciated! Other extras on the disc include the trailer as well as trailers for other TLA Releasing releases. There is also an odd little video montage from "Justus Boyz", a clothing manufacturer that provided the undies for the production.

TLA Releasing has also announced the acquisition of "SOCKET" (dir. Sean Abley, US, 2007, 90 mins.), which I saw earlier this year at Gaylaxicon 07. It was an unannounced, last minute, midnight presentation, which was thoroughly enjoyed. Abley cast a hunky and appealing couple of guys who dramatize a sci-fi version of sexual and chemical addiction. A group of electrocution survivors gather to 'get off' on re-electrocuting themselves, more or less. Yes, that is over-simplified, but the performances and editing are well above the standard, as far as gay schockers go! (Ha! Get it?! hee hee hee...) I'm excited to see it again, and NOT at midnight, this time... It releases in March, as the accompanying press release details:

(Philadelphia PA / London, UK, November 5, 2007) TLA Releasing has secured non-theatrical, home video, VOD rights for North America and United Kingdom to SOCKET (2007, U.S.) written and directed by Sean Abley. The film will be released on DVD March 25, 2008 in North America and the summer of 2008 in the United Kingdom, through the TLA Releasing label.

TLA acquired the film from Los Angeles based production company, Velvet Candy Entertainment; TLA Releasing was represented by TLA partner and Director of Acquisitions Richard A. Wolff and the deal was negotiated by writer, director, producer Sean Abley and producers John Carrozza and Doug Prinzivalli of Velvet Candy Entertainment. The deal was finalized at 2007 AFM.

“SOCKET contains elements of sci-fi and horror wrapped up in an unconventional gay romance.” Said Richard Wolff of TLA Releasing. “Production company Velvet Candy Entertainment has some exciting projects in the pipeline and their first project is an accessible, entertaining blend of sexy chills and thrills.”

In SOCKET, surgeon Bill Matthews (Derek Long) is recovering in the hospital where he works, after being struck by lightning on the beach. His intern is the mysterious and sexy Craig Murphy (Matthew Montgomery of Gone but not Forgotten), who has been struck by lightening too. As Bill is released from the hospital, Craig slips him a card inviting him to a meeting of “people just like us.”

Intrigued by this “group,” Bill gets up the courage to attend and find other survivors who have been electrocuted in massively creative ways. But as the doctor discovers, the members are hooking themselves up in order to get off. And not only does Bill become hooked to the “juice,” his relationship with Craig really sparks, leaving a trail of dead bodies and blood in its wake.

"When we started working on SOCKET just over a year ago, we would say to each other 'Wouldn't it be great if TLA picked up our film?' said writer/director/co-producer Sean Abley. “And now here we are working with TLA on the first of, hopefully, many more films to come. We're thrilled to say the least."

For additional information about SOCKET visit and

Maxxxxx says
re Naked Boys Singing: "Dooby doobie dooo-oooo!"
re Socket: "Wooooo! Pretty!"

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Commercial Catch-up: Control and Across the Universe

CONTROL (dir. Anton Corbijn, UK, 2007, 121 mins.) Briefly, this is a bio-pic of Ian Curtis' life with the 'post-punk' band, Joy Division. Not so briefly, this is gorgeously, if not brilliantly photographed and framed film, in widescreen black and white, by Martin Ruhe, though considerable 'online chatter' credits director Anton Corbijn, who is a celebrated photographer, particularly of rock bands as his subjects, i.e. he did the cover to U2's "Joshua Tree" album. Just the composition within the frame lends itself to comtemplation. It was reminiscent of the independent work coming out of the UK in the late 60's/early 70's, though that is about a decade before the film is placed. The lighting and production design is suitably sterile and morose, since it frames the character, Ian Curtis.

Sam Riley plays Ian Curtis with a tragic, yet graceful despair. During the performance sequences, Riley seems to leave his body, which becomes a tangle of limbs flying in front of him. I am not so familiar with Joy Division, much less any video of them, so I do not know if Riley's physical performance during the band's sequences is literal or a poetic analogy to his epilepsy, which haunted him and drove him into ever deeper depressions. Regardless, Riley photographs stunningly in black and white, and his singing performances are mesmerizing. Even if the character lacks the ferocity that usually garners nominations (i.e. Bette Midler in "The Rose"), his depth, skill and the fact that he is in nearly EVERY FRAME, should attract due notice on everyone's top 10 list at the end of the year. His 'off stage' persona as the passive-aggressive-civil-servant-for-a-day-job, is mostly opposite the always great Samantha Morton, who plays his wife. Morton was nearly unrecognizable in her entrance, when they first meet. However, during one of the more climatic of the numerous arguments between them, she turns what is merely on paper a few questions, into an awesome monologue of queries and pauses. Also notable is Toby Kebbell as the band's manager, 'Rob Gretton'. Perhaps it is because he is the only character in the film allowed a punchline, but his presence is wonderfully edited within the otherwise dismal storyline. The rest of the guys in the band are nearly background, without becoming generic. However, all four of them were trained on the instruments and perform live - not synced. Alexandra Maria Lara plays 'Curtis's lover, but she is merely window dressing in this. She is GORGEOUSLY photographed, but window dressing, nonetheless, as she is not given all that much to do.

Though I could not hum a few bars to a Joy Division song if my life depended on it, once the soundtrack got going, I vaguely remember their sound and really enjoyed the music, now 25 years later. Overall, I can not say I was moved to tears, as were a few in the audience I was with, as well as a report from a friend who saw it in Toronto. I just found it too beautiful to look at, even during its tragic climax, to be depressed.

Similarly, though 180 degrees its opposite in visual style, tone and budget, no doubt, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (dir. Julie Taymor, US, 2007, 131 mins.) is a BIG, BEAUTIFUL love letter to the Beatles. Director Julie Taymor could well become the next Ken Russell! The woman will sacrifice any performance or script for the sake of her imagery. She is just lucky enough to be brilliant, as far as her visuals are concerned. What is a simple boy-meets/loses/gets-girl story is set during the Viet Nam war, scored completely by Beatles songs, and sung by the cast. She has led her cinematographer (Bruno Delbonnel), production designer (Mark Friedberg), art direction (Peter Rogness) and costumer (Albert Wolsky) to create a Disneyfied version of "Hair". If I could be so gauche as to make the pitch: it is "Mama Mia" meets "Hair" meets "Beatlemania". Though the political commentary is intact, it is simplified in to a generic anti-war statement. In fact, the pacifists become the antagonists by the end of the film, which I found a tad distressing.

The ENORMOUS cast (well it IS a $200 million production, I would guess) is led by Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson. At the time I saw it, I thought they were competent enough. However, I don't remember them, unlike the various supporting cast, including Eddie Izzard, Bono, and Joe Cocker, who each pop in for a ditty, regardless of how well it might play in the script or not. These three guys display more character and prove to be more adept at a 'musical' than the leading players. I just regret that the Eddie Izzard scene could have been cut without any loss what so ever.

Of the two dozen or so songs that Taymor includes here, there were a few I had no recollection of as being by the Beatles, and they didn't really serve any dramatic purpose within her screenplay, either. She is a self indulgent artist, who does not apparently self-edit much. However, she IS an artist and she does have moments of ecstasy! I WILL have this when it is on DVD, even if I do not intend on watching it from beginning to end, but chapter skipping my way through it...

Maxxxxx says
re Control: "Such a pretty bird!"
re Across the Universe: Whistles the theme from "Bridge Over the River Kwai"

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Commercial Catch-up: Politics and Religion

A pair of fabulous documentaries have ZOOMED past here in Atlanta:

JIMMY CARTER: MAN FROM PLAINS (dir. Jonathan Demme, US, 2007, 125 mins.) Director Jonathan Demme has created a very difficult piece to encapsulate, much less 'sell', which describes the dilemma that the subject of his documentary faces, also. The film concentrates on Jimmy Carter's publicity tour for his book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" by following him through the media circus that surrounded him for just using the word 'apartheid' in the same breath with 'Palestine'. The 'character' of Jimmy Carter is big enough and well known enough, that we don't need much more than a refresher on who he is before launching out on the road with him. What comes as sort of a bonus in seeing him in action, is that even at 82 years old AND being a former President, he still carries his own bags and flies on commercial airlines, with just the minimal of security around him. As for a 'warts and all' portraiture, Demme catches Carter being only annoyed at worst, and that is limited to the cell phone juggling he has to do from airplane to hotel, as well as dealing with interviewers who have obviously not read the book they are criticizing him for. By keeping any political lashing at the current administration out of the film, Demme has restrained it to an observation of an 'old generation' politician faced with current media frenzy that seeks a soundbite and not a discussion, even with a topic that is as complicated as the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, Carter and his publishers, Simon and Schuster, are more than aware that just using the word 'apartheid' in the title was a publicity stunt in itself, though the word that everyone involved uses is 'provocative'. It is something that as the six week tour continues, Carter seemingly regrets having done. Though he admits that it was his way of sparking a debate on the subject, the result of having to defend himself proved to be a distraction from the topic at hand. And it is that unspoken drama Demme captures in the film.

In short, and what makes the film great, though unsellable: Demme documents a generally well-liked political figure as he wrestles against a voracious media in defending and selling his ideas about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It doesn't sound like such a good time, but it is! Demme's dramatic style of using close-ups to look into his characters' dilemmas (i.e. "Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia") is perfectly suited here as we look into the faces of his interviewers and his 'fans' at the signings. The fans are clearly in awe of his presence. The interviewers are too distracted by their own agendas to make a connection with their subject. Demme is also invisible throughout, to the point that I am not sure he was present during the entire filming. His absence elevates the film from being an op/ed piece, to a truer document of an event. The detractors are given enough screen time to voice their opinions about the book, that Demme cannot be judged as having a political agenda, as much as a social one, regarding the state of the media.

He also exposes the base of Carter's inexhaustible energy, which is his faith and his relationship with Rosalyn. Carter's religious belief, though not fully explored here, runs throughout the film, whether it be his saying grace at each meal, the shared bible reading he and Rosalyn have even when he is on the road, or the occasional sermons he gives in Plains, GA. However, all of these displays are privately held. He does not promote his religion while on the road or in interviews. He just acts upon it through his tireless actions. During the two to three months that the film follows him, if he is not on the road for the book, he is on the road with "Habitat for Humanity" in New Orleans (which is the closest moment he comes to criticizing the current administration on film), or attending the Carter Center board meetings. Ironically, his travel is only limited by President Bush. Carter is not allowed to enter Lebanon because of the 'statement' that his mere presence would make. A moment that Demme includes, which is a political statement in itself.

At 125 minutes, the film runs long, however it doesn't feel it. But a documentary at that length will make distribution even more difficult. Catch it when you can!

FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO (dir. Daniel G. Karslake, US, 2007, 95 mins.) Politics intersect on religion in this documentary profiling two gay men, three lesbians and their families' belief systems and how that affects their relationships with each other. Included in the group is Chrissy Gephardt, Congressman Dick Gephardt's daughter, and Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay man to be elected to bishop in the Anglican Church. Interspersed with the interviews and profiles of the subjects and families are commentaries by biblical scholars regarding the literalist interpretation of the Bible. At one point, I felt the film got a bit stalled in the etymology of the word "abomination", but then it is the BIG WORD for biblical literalists in their condemnation of homosexuality. Other than that, the film does build to a dramatic and surprising climax at the doorstep of "Focus on the Family" in Colorado Springs, as well as the Episcopalian Convention, where Bishop Robinson is ordained. The Gephardt's journey holds no real surprise, it has been previously documented. However their inclusion here (as well as being the 'poster family') will give the film more exposure. Oh, and curiously, this was the second gay-and-religion themed documentary I've seen this year produced by Michael Huffington, aka Arianna's ex!

Maxxxxx says
re Jimmy Carter Man From Plains: "Such a good bird!"
re For the Bible Tells Me So: "Bless you!"

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween - Atlanta

Though my friends in San Francisco will be staying home for Halloween, I've been and will be out and about! Halloween in Atlanta sort of began for me on Saturday night at the Plaza Theater which presented the 'regularly scheduled' (as in every last Saturday of the month) performance of the Silver Scream Spook Show, with your hosts Professor Morte and his assistant, Retch. For those of you in the know, this ably compares to an evening with Peaches Christ, but a straight-non-drag version. Also, the performance before the film seemed a bit tame, but that might have been due to the expectancy of kids in the audience, since this was the 'Halloween show'. Morte proves to be a fairly good host and star of the night, and Retch (think of Peaches' sidekick Martiny) is so totally committed to his role, that he is a total hoot, even when delivering some of the purposefully lame jokes. The rest of Morte's cast, including the girls of "Blast Off Burlesque", are suitably 'off' in that midnight movie way. I won't go into the details of the pre-screening skit, except to note that Morte is quite devoted to the Plaza Theater and its unique spot as one of the VERY FEW independent screens in the Atlanta area. It is comparable to the Roxie in San Francisco as far as programming, but at nearly three times it size and includes a second screen in the former balcony. Morte closed the pre-show with a spirited speech about the place of independent film and the Plaza's mission to deliver it.

The screening was of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (dir. Edward Wood Jr., US, 1959, 79 mins.) in full, big screen and colorful glory! It has been YEARS since I've seen 'Plan 9' in a theater. In fact, I've seen so many parts and tributes to it, that I'm not even sure if I had seen it in its entirety at all! I've sat through so many truly BAD low budget features in the past few years, that this really didn't seem that horrible. Yes, the production values are nearly non-existent and the talent of the cast can be questionable, however, Wood's direction and particularly his editing and pacing, are more than tolerable and actually, under the circumstances, quite good! There is a dedication by all those involved that give the movie a wild eyed innocence, even if it is about a government cover up of an alien invasion. You can tell that everyone is giving it their all, under Wood's direction. There are no amateurish 'diva moments', but an ensemble that is struggling to deliver a director's vision, with what few tools they may have available. It is worth a second look and WITHOUT the 'puppets' delivering commentary in front.

Two nights later, the Plaza hosted Splatter Cinema's programming premiere of BLOOD FEAST (dir. Herschell Gordon Lewis, US, 1963, 67 mins.). Splatter Cinema is devoted to presenting its series of films from 35mm prints! So, this was a definite RARE occasion to see one of the great cult flicks of all time! I am a "Blood Feast" version, as it were. I've heard much about it, as it was considered the goriest thing ever put on film, at the time. It also featured Playmate Connie Mason, as potential jiggle factor and the psychopath's ultimate prey. Ironically, it isn't she who jiggles, but the first victim who does, with tastefully placed bath bubbles, barely revealing her breasts. The gore IS abundant, but so over the top that it is a hoot! (As a gag, even the box office issued a 'complimentary barf bag' to everyone in the audience.) What was really scary, was the performance of the cast. These people are TERRIBLE!! But nearly hysterically so! H.G. Lewis seems to have told them to GO FOR IT!! Connie Mason's breakdown at the end, in which you can tell she is PROUD to have produced REAL TEARS, is almost scary to watch, since she is forcing herself out of control. Mal Arnold as the murderer, is really bad. He's almost not even 'funny bad' but unwatchable bad. Not to be outdone by the performances, there isn't a single element of the film that is redeemable. The production design is cardboard tepid, the cinematography attempts 'day for night' in a truly amateurish manner, the editing is sluggish at best and comatose at its worst, the costuming is ludicrously beyond camp and the makeup design (including gore effects!) are at a high school level. It is the product of a dozen negatives equally one glorious positive! The movie is that rare find: TRUE SCHLOCK!! Watching it on a 35mm print, with scratches and fading, only enhanced the 'grindhouse effect'. It was a FUN night and one I can't wait to repeat next month!

So, with those nifty Halloween experiences under my belt down here, what to do for the BIG DAY itself?! Go to the Netherworld Haunted House here in Atlanta! Ranked as one of the nation's best Haunted Houses, the roommate/etc. has been on me to go for a couple of weeks now. We decided to try Halloween itself, though it might be packed! Maxxxxx will have nothing to do with it, but Belle is all dressed up to go, though she's too young...

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Monday, October 29, 2007

International Animation Day - Atlanta

On October 28th, the Atlanta chapter of ASIFA (aka Association International du Film d'Animation) participated in the organization's "International Animation Day", which commemorates the first public performance of Emile Reynaud's Theatre Optique at the Grevin Museum in Paris in 1892. Atlanta's part in the day's activities was a presentation of 21 short animated films in the High Museum. Each chapter submits and exchanges dvds of member films. So, interestingly enough, each chapter creates a program derived completely from international submissions. Tonight's program in Atlanta featured shorts from Estonia, Bulgaria, Australia, Israel, Korea, Hungary and Iran. Though, the evening began with a local entry, a screening of HOW CAN WE ACHIEVE WORLD PEACE? (dir. Jeffrey Poole, Atlanta College of Art, Georgia, USA, 1:12) which won the 2007 Helen Victoria Haynes International World Peace Student Storyboard and Animation Competition, and naturally, Jeffrey Poole was there to receive plaudits. After its pleasant little screening, Joe Peery proceeded to introduce the program. Of the twenty one pieces to be viewed, there was one director present: Hamid Bahrami from Iran.

TRAVELLER OF THE HORIZON (dir. Hamid Bahrami, Iran, 2006, 8 min.) This was a particularly beautiful piece, involving a man who DRAGS a large crate across a desert, while being passed up by 'the upper classes' who are pedaling away in vehicles. The finale is typically moralistic, as our laborer does get the upper hand. It is beautifully and painstakingly drawn and well paced.

Also from Iran was THE LOST PUPPET (dir. Moin Samadi, Iran, 2006, 7 mins.) This was perhaps the most technically stunning, if not the most beautiful film in the program. The film follows a puppet that has fallen from a cart through a series of theatrical tableaux. The screenplay is impressionistic enough to be dreamlike, as are the visuals. It was one of those experiences where it is so esoterically sensual and visual as to defy my ability to verbalize it. It was an outstanding piece!

Australia was represented by a group of shorts from a production company called "The People's Republic of Animation". Five of them were episodes from the short series "Errorism: A Comedy of Terrors" (dir. Eddie White, Australia, 2006, 1 min. each). In each episode 'Terry', our little anti-hero, is a comically and tragically inept terrorist, who manages to self destruct in each of his complicated plans to terrorize the society. Apparently, all of the episodes are available to screen via the PRA's website, including my FAVORITE of the five, "THE ENVELOPE"!

The sixth entry from The People's Republic of Animation in Australia was CARNIVORE REFLUX (dirs. Eddie White and James Calvert, Australia, 2006, 7 mins.) It is a beautifully grotesque story of feasting and gorging, that climaxes in a Technicolor explosion of, well... 'reflux'! The storytelling narration underneath the fantastic visuals, is just as witty and surreal as what is on screen. I LOVED it! I must HAVE it!

Two of the three entries from Hungary were particularly creepy and nightmarish, eventhough they were 'vintage'. SZMOG (dir. Zoltán Vitális, Hungary, 1987, 3 mins.) is twenty years old, it still achieves its creepy purpose, as we wander through a smog so thick, that figures appear to be apparitions. Szupermarket (dir. Csilla Temesvári, Hungary, 1996, 4 mins.) This ten year old short follows a little girl who gets separated from her mother and lost in a supermarket. The art is not necessarily breathtaking, but the pacing and editing are! (The third entry, "2 Minutes of Life", I am afraid I just do not remember anything about to comment upon.)

The Bulgarian entries were shown back-to-back, featuring The Crown (dir. Tatyana Trifonova, Bulgaria, 2006, 2 mins.) and The Bear (director credits not found, Bulgaria, 5 mins.). These were 180 degrees opposed in style and technique. THE CROWN was a slick, CGI fable of a group of creatures obsessed with following 'the crown' and gaining it through assassinations and plots. The little creatures were hysterically animated and the lesson at the end was pointed. THE BEAR may have been computer assisted, but the style was hand drawn and exceptionally, though effectively, rough. The graphics were humorous enough, though the actual plot, as short as it was, didn't quite hold up. It was just a bit too quirky, visually and dramatically.

Israel was represented with three pieces. AND THEN SUDDENLY (dir. Oded Naamaan, Israel, 2006, 7 mins.) This effectively related the purpose, the motive and the art of story telling. The mixture of animation techniques and the accompanying, appropriate musical score styles is a near brilliant example of virtuosity! Plus it featured a bizarre little penguin! I LOVE animated penguins! The short is viewable at the linked site. LIVE LIFE (dir. Jonathan Pasternak, Israel, 2006, 6 mins.) In a very humorous and irreverent way, the film relates the creation of the Sedlec Ossuary, while accompanied by William Shatner's and Ben Fold's song "You'll Have Time". William Shatner... bones... animated... hee hee hee... The third film from Israel, THE CELLO (director credits not found, Israel, 6 mins.) was beautifully realized using cutouts.

Bosnia submitted two shorts, APPETITE (which I remember nothing about) and PINNACLE (director credits not found, Bosnia, 1 min.), which may have been one of the shortest entries, but nonetheless, one of the funniest!

Korea's entry HUG (dir. Lee sang-hui, Korea, 2007, 5 mins.) was CUTE. You know, I hate CUTE. This was VERY CUTE. Look at the accompanying screen shot. It SCREAMS CUTE! "HUG" is ugh.

The evening began and ended with the two longest shorts, both from Estonia. The opening program was INSTINCT (dir. Rao Heidmets, Estonia, 2003, 10 mins.) which retells the story of creation in the form of puppets, who wrestle with the perfection that the Garden of Eden precariously balanced on - literally, in this film.

The evening drew to a close with CONCERT FOR A CARROT PIE (dirs. Heiki Ernits and Janno Poldma, Estonia, 2002, 11 mins.) This is an extraordinarily, detailed drawn animation. The plot itself is a series of episodes that make as much sense as an old nursery rhyme. However, there is a sense of joy captured within the artistry, so any need for morale or logic is whimsically placed aside. The score is a lot of fun, in of itself!

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