Tribeca Film Festival 2013

Review: Kill Team

Jul 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215318:39994:0[/embed] Kill TeamDirector: Dan KraussRelease Date: July 25, 2014 (New York, National rollout to follow)Rating: NR  The primary focus of Kill Team is Private Adam Winfield and his family. Private Winfield was the whistleblower who attempted to bring attention to these criminal acts for months. Despite his efforts and his family's efforts, military brass never acted in an urgent way. Private Winfield's own father, who also served and was the reason that Private Winfield enlisted in the Army, reached out to as many professional contacts as he could that might be able to do something. None of these people could help, and many deferred responsibility to other parties. The reason these kills took place was the squad leader, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs. Gibbs is an imposing figure, an all-American freedom machine with the features of a GI Joe. He served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and in addition to his hardcore machismo, there's a major psychopathic and sociopathic streak to him. He looks at the Afghan population as sub-human, and even makes a necklace of index finger bones for his own amusement. As trophies of his kills, Gibbs also gets tattoos, and he encourages those under him to do as he does. Gibbs is never interviewed for the documentary, and it's no surprise that he'd avoid participating in this film since he wouldn't come out of it in any sort of positive light. A few of Private Winfield's fellow soldiers are interviewed, however, and they are so blunt about what happened it adds additional chill to what they say. It's like they're describing trips to the store rather than the murder of innocent people; as if they're talking about others planting grenades and pulling the triggers rather than themselves. It seems like they viewed the peacekeeping side of the mission as tedious rather than essential, while the firefights were where the fun was at. Private Winfield was coerced to murder an innocent civilian himself under threat of death. The rest of his company knew he wanted to reveal what they've done, and they made it known that if he blew the whistle, they'd kill him and make it look like an accident. If  they could make innocent civilians seem like enemy combatants, it wouldn't be so hard to make another murder seem like part of routine combat. Under that kind of duress, Private Winfield had no choice but to comply. His parents were helpless to help, and Army higher ups weren't too concerned. On top of that, Private Winfield's small in stature and even though he has a lot of heart, his rucksack weighs as much as he does. Private Winfield seems like the only person interviewed that shows any remorse about the killings. He recalls the moment and calls it the worst thing in his life. The other troops who are so matter-of-fact describe a kind of compartmentalization of military action and civilian life. Back home, a troop may be filled with angst and anxiety that they try to tamp down as best as they can. They express no desire to kill when on leave, but things are different when back in Afghanistan. Obviously this isn't the case with all troops and the documentary isn't painting everyone who serves in the same light, but Kill Team does a good job of profiling just how dark these impulses can become. Much of the film's focus is on Private Winfield's fate and how his family copes with the legal defense. In some ways this points out part of the film limitations in its exploration of this issue. No doubt a lot of this had to do with access, and director Dan Krauss makes the most out of his time with the Winfields. While some of Private Winfield's fellow troops participate in the documentary, none of their families appear. Part of me wonders how their experiences were and what their personal stories involved, especially in the case of Gibbs's loved ones. Did they notice something wrong? Did they know what was happening? How do they feel now that they know what's happened? One minor issue I had with Kill Team had to do with its presentation, of all things. When Krauss is in documentary journalism mode, the film is brimming with power. The more cinematic flourishes in the film seem less effective, though. The cinematography is nice, but it seems like a bit of a distraction -- a kind of garnish rather than something that complements the content. There's also the slow crawl of text from Facebook chats between Private Winfield and his father, which are more affected than effective. It's a testament to the power of this story, maybe, that I'm critical of a choice of presentation that gets in the way of the facts. Quibbles aside, Kill Team is an important film that may be the first of many to come. Once again, as we're told in the film, this is something that happens more that we think. Other units have engaged in similar actions, and the civilians who witness it are going to harbor deep and legitimate resentments that will be passed through villages, conveyed to the next generation. When more of these stories are revealed and more time has passed when the last troops have left, we may get a larger and more complicated picture of the country and the conflict. The silence can't last for long.
Kill Team Review photo
Examining US troops that murdered innocent Afghan civilians for sport
The war in Afghanistan is the longest military conflict in which the United States has been involved. The operation is nowhere near as successful as hoped, which is part of the reality of fighting a war in Afghanistan, a less...

Reviews: Whitewash and Big Bad Wolves

May 06 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]215491:40054:0[/embed] WhitewashDirector: Emanuel Hoss-DesmaraisRelease Date: May 2, 2014 (VOD)Country: Canada Whitewash is a story of solitude. In the middle of a blinding snowstorm, Bruce (Thomas Haden Church) accidentally drives his small snowplow into a man wandering in the road. He covers the body and then drives the plow out into the forest. He wakes up to find that the snowplow is stuck, and he is lost and alone. He has no food, he is on the verge of running out of gas (the plow can't move, but it can provide heat), he has no real supplies, and he is also a killer. It's just him, the forest, and his big yellow snowplow. He comes across people throughout the film, as treks out to find supplies and keep himself alive, but these interactions are brief and uncomfortable. But Whitewash also goes into the immediate past. It turns out that, even if that man's death was accidental (which it seems to have been), the two of them had met before. It would be disingenuous to say they were friends, but they had spent the days leading up the incident together. In fact, Bruce had stopped the dead man from committing suicide (a more beautiful irony I cannot comprehend) and then taken him in. As with any good nonlinear narrative, each new flashback drastically changes how the viewer perceives both Bruce and what he's done. By the end, I probably would have hit the guy with a snowplow myself. Big Bad WolvesDirectors: Navot Papushado and Aharon KeshalesRelease Date: January 17, 2014 (VOD)Country: Israel Big Bad Wolves deals with a much more serious subject matter, but it deals with it much less seriously. A man has been torturing, raping, and killing young girls and though the police believe they have found the man responsible, a video of some of their enhanced interrogation techniques is posted to the internet and they are pressured to let him go. After another girl is found raped and beheaded, the girl's father decides to take matters into his own hands. He kidnaps the suspected killer, ties him up in the basement of a new house purchased for this purpose, and goes to work. He brings with him another man, the police officer whose enhanced interrogation techniques meant the man walked in the first place. What follows is gruesome, unpleasant, and comical. And that last part is where things start to come undone. I have written on multiple occasions about the use of either child rape or child murder as a plot device (and I don't know if that says something about me or about cinema in general), but every time the same question comes into my head: did the film earn the right to use that as a plot device? Death is often treated lightly in film, but child death is something else entirely. Broaching a taboo subject like that is not inherently problematic, but not treating that subject properly turns a film from effective to exploitative. In Whitewash, there is a scene where Bruce, hiding out in a family's cabin in an attempt to get warm, is discovered by a little girl. She is obviously horrified to find a big man with a gravelly voice rivaled only by Batman, and he tries to keep her quiet by grabbing her and covering her mouth. The following scene is played for laughs, as the girl's father confronts him (from a distance), but what Bruce did, motivations be damned, is treated in the way that sort of scene deserves. Big Bad Wolves should be able to offer that same weight, but it doesn't. The scenes involving child abduction and the aftermaths of the violence aren't played for laughs, but so much of the violence and horror surrounding them are that the scenes actually seem worse for that. The line between comedy and drama is so tenuous that things that should be funny come off as horrific and things that should be horrific are funny. I laughed a lot when I was watching the film, and that was by design, but it's a flawed design. Tonal consistency is really important for a film like this, and Big Bad Wolves can't keep its tone. For the most part, it is played as a comedy. Whether it's breaking a man's fingers with a hammer or having an extremely Jewish mother cry about her son refusing to let her visit him while he's "sick," there's a joke in there somewhere, except in those rare moments where it seems like a taboo could go too far. But that actually draws attention to itself, and it makes those scenes feel even more exploitative, like they are from the wrong movie. Whitewash seems like a drama from the outset, but the comedy grows into it organically. Admittedly, I felt a little weird the first time I laughed, because I hadn't noticed the subtleties of the shift, but soon it just made sense. The line between drama and comedy (the film never really goes into the horrific) is occasionally blurry, but it works and the filmmakers clearly understood their subject material. Death and isolation are two extremely difficult topics to deal with. Not quite as difficult as those dealt with in Big Bad Wolves, but difficult nonetheless, and so director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais and co. should be commended for their work.  Had I not seen Big Bad Wolves so soon after Whitewash, it's possible that I would have been slightly kinder to it here, or at the very least have more trouble articulating why it doesn't work. Looking at the two films side-by-side, two films that are different in every way except their broad genre definition, it's possible to pick apart the successes and failings from each in the context of the other. Further discussion about the failings of Big Bad Wolves would delve too heavily into spoiler territory (I could write several hundred words about the final shot alone), but suffice it to say that there are plenty of things that could be discussed. Now, I'm not advocating not seeing the film. I think it has some merit and I know several people who were able to see past these flaws. But it's impossible to overlook those issues, especially when dealing with something so inherently disturbing. And let me also say that Whitewash is not a perfect work either. It's good, and I enjoyed it quite a lot, but it didn't blow me away. In a head-to-head fight with Big Bad Wolves, it comes out the clear victor, but it isn't groundbreaking cinema. But not everything needs to be groundbreaking. Sometimes, movies just need to be good. Whitewash is good, and the score in the big box below reflects the quality of Whitewash. Big Bad Wolves, on the other hand, doesn't deserve that score. Instead, that film gets a 60. It's "Decent." Barely.
Whitewash, Big Bad Wolves photo
The success and failure of comedy in the face of tragedy
I like film festivals for a lot of reasons, but one of the best is the way films are forced into context with a number of other, entirely unrelated films. The act of watching multiple films in a day alone creates all sorts of...

Review: Let the Fire Burn

Oct 01 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215325:40729:0[/embed] Let the Fire BurnDirector: Jason OsderRating: NRRelease Date: October 2nd, 2013 (New York) First a little background on MOVE. MOVE was founded in 1972 by John Africa (real name Vincent Leaphart). It was a back-to-nature group that was at the very least cult-like if not a cult. MOVE was anti-technology since they felt that technology was the tool of the oppressors, and all the members took the surname "Africa" as a show of solidarity and pride. MOVE proved a disruptive presence in Philadelphia on a number of occasions. From their house on Osage Ave., the site of the eventual 1985 stand-off, they'd shout profanity-laden screeds through a loud speaker. Footage shows the members of MOVE entering the house by ropes leading to the roof rather than through the front door. On the roof of the Osage house they'd constructed a bunker as if anticipating an eventual fight with city authorities. There was precedent for this. In the late 1970s, MOVE got into a conflict with the police that resulted in the death of an officer and the beating of a MOVE member. The history of MOVE is part of the missing link in Osder's documentary. Beyond the bare basics, we never really get a sense of what MOVE stood for, who John Africa was, and what he preached or taught. If the main focus of the documentary is the 1985 stand-off and how it's a criminal act by the state government, then in some ways this contextualization of MOVE irrelevant, but even then, the picture of MOVE seems incomplete. I think of the thoroughness of William Gazecki's 1997 documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement, which is a great examination of the Branch Davidian tragedy. Though in the case of Gazecki's film, he didn't restrict himself to the use of just archival footage. In addition to available video and audio resources, there are interviews with survivors of the stand-off, law enforcement officials, government officials, and others with knowledge of what happened. These multiple perspectives looking back at the incident helps paint a more complete picture of those events than just an act of documentary assemblage. This keys into something else I noticed about Let the Fire Burn. Apart from the limitations of the formal approach to this subject matter, Let the Fire Burn necessarily takes a limited historical perspective as well. Osder uses footage of that timeframe gathered from various reports and hearings, and that's it. I started to wonder about material that came after the hearings that Osder used. Were there subsequent reports in the year after the tragedy, five years after the tragedy, 10 years, 20 years, and so on? If so, how would the inclusion of that footage added to bigger picture? Similarly, there's no mention of the later Ruby Ridge and Waco tragedies, which I think are part of this larger conversation about Let the Fire Burn, though maybe that conversation is one that is meant to take place outside of the film. Since there's no catch up done with the people who were involved in these events and no sense of reflection on the Osage Ave. stand-off in light of other ugly (to put it lightly) government oversteps, Let the Fire Burn operates in a sort of vacuum. We have enough historical perspective to consider what this all means in the bigger picture of the 1980s and 1990s, but the event is isolated as its own unit. Similarly, MOVE is isolated as its own entity without its social or historical contextualization alongside other politically charged, separatist, or utopian groups that came before it, like The Nation of Islam, The Black Panthers, or even Jonestown. But I think I harp on these things because if Let the Fire Burn does something unimpeachable, it's the way it handles the Osage Ave. stand-off itself. This is the area where the restriction of material to archival and reports helps provide a greater sense of the drama, confusion, and terror of that day. This happened in my own lifetime, but I was too young to be aware of it, unlike Waco. In the film, it's as if I'm sitting in front of the TV watching it all unfold. This is the strength of Osder's formal choice, and it's undeniable when it hits. By the end of the stand-off, I was filled with bewildered outrage. Even though it's incomplete in a lot of ways, Let the Fire Burn deserves to be watched if only for its recreation of the Osage Ave. tragedy. There is such power in that footage, and the way that a lot of the police officers act regarding the murder of 11 people is infuriating but enlightening. This is a horror that happened only a quarter of a century ago. This is a good starting point for learning more about its complexities so hopefully crimes like this don't happen again. Alec Kubas-Meyer: Let the Fire Burn is a fundamentally flawed documentary. Exclusively using archival footage and the very occasional subtitle, there is nothing in this story except what the makers decided to pull from the newscasts of the time period it depicts. The story is fascinating; I had never heard of the events on Osage Ave. that inspired the film, so I enjoyed it on that level. But it didn't do anything new. Some new interviews with people related to the story or something along those lines would have gone a long way towards making the documentary feel like more than just a highlight reel of an event. I wanted to know more about the police, more about the members of MOVE, more about the way things played out in the minds of those people (although most of the MOVE members died in the event). The film is missing context, and it's an unfortunate thing. Still, were I to research the event myself, it would have taken me a lot longer to learn everything that Let the Fire Burn taught me, so it's got something going for it. 60 - Decent. [For more info on Let the Fire Burn, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Let the Fire Burn Review photo
A rousing but incomplete portrait of a grave injustice in Philadelphia
In 1985 there was a tragic stand-off between the extremist Africa-American group MOVE and the city of Philadelphia. At the end, 11 members of MOVE were killed, including five children, and 65 other houses in the area were bur...


Review: Dark Touch

Sep 26 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215319:40702:0[/embed] Dark TouchDirector: Marina de VanRating: NRCountry: France/IrelandRelease Date: September 27, 2013 (limited, VOD) The film opens with what seems like a little nod to Suspiria. A hysterical Neve rushes through the woods at night in the rain as if she's being pursued by something or someone. She winds up at a neighbor's house screaming unintelligibly. Blood pours out from her mouth because her tongue's been cut. When she's well again and able to speak, she insists that she was attacked by her own home, which is an absurd idea and the sort of thing that adults would write off as a nightmare or the work of an overactive imagination. Here, it's sort of the truth. The mayhem continues in Neve's house when she's returned to her parents. The place does wind up going mad when she's there. Think Mary Poppins on meth: flurries of shattering glass, dressers skidding across the floor at unstoppable speeds, sharp things flying at mom and dad. In the aftermath of the freakout, Neve is alive but orphaned, the sole survivor of what authorities think is a home invasion of some kind. Nat (Marcella Plunkett) and Lucas (Padraic Delaney), the hapless neighbors she ran to at the beginning, volunteer to look after her. At that point there was knowing laughter from the audience. These sorts of well-meaning gestures in these sorts of films can never end well. A similar show of goodwill later in the film also led to louder knowing laughs. Nat and Lucas are as kind as they can be, though they have their own faults as parents. Still, both do their best to be accommodating even though they're ill-equipped to deal with a girl so psychologically scarred. Every attempt to reach out to her she interprets as an intent to harm. When Nat tries to just touch Neve's hair or her shoulder, Neve shrinks away like a frightened cat. When she's touched in a certain way in her bedroom, Neve goes into a zombified state and begins to remove her panties and undress. When she see dolls being manhandled and mutilated, inside of Neve there's an uncontrollable fear. It's the little suggestions like these that hint at just how awful her abuse and her baby brother's abuse were when she was living with her parents. Dark Touch plays with a familiar trope of horror films: young girls developing certain abilities when they come of age. Think Carrie and Firestarter, or specious reports about adolescent girls, telekinesis, and poltergeists. By constructing one of those kinds of stories using a framework of abuse and victimization, it feels like de Van is making a larger comment on how the abused deal with the aftermath of their abuse. Perhaps rehabilitation is not always possible for some, and even those who are helped through counseling and therapy can never quite be relieved of the tragedies in their past. The movie made me think a lot about triggers and what the mere mention of certain events means to the victims of abuse, rape, and other traumas. Dark Touch is all about triggers, how they manifest themselves, and how precarious life can be for victims of such horrible events. The saddest thing is that while Neve is now free from her abusers, she's still not free from their influence or their power. Any perceived potential for abuse causes the anxiety associated with the trauma, and because Neve's life has been defined by constant victimization, everything is a potential trigger. It doesn't even need to be adult cruelty that she witnesses. Kids can be so cruel as well, especially to people who are different. They'll tease, they'll mock, they'll destroy them socially just because they can and it's what the group is doing. Children often lack a basic concept of empathy, which I'm convinced is one sign of maturity. To be blunt, kids are absolute shits sometimes and they never fail to demonstrate their potential for ruthlessness and villainy; and there's no better target for their malice than weaker children, outcasts, and the ones that are labeled freaks. Neve has no one who can really understand her save for a pregnant school counselor, a teacher, and two other victims of abuse from her class. These two kids are barely confidants for Neve, and they're not really allies in the cruel world either. In fact, they seem so fargone that they look like the walking dead. As for the counselor and the teacher, they may be the only two people in the world that Neve can forge a connection with, but she can't trust them entirely. Again, the moment she lets her guard down could be the moment that she's abused again. The only response for a hopeless life like this is rage, and Dark Touch is fundamentally a movie about an uncontrollable rage at the world, merging Neve's anger at her parents with a sense of moral outrage at the victimization of children. Whatever has been awakened in Neve is only getting stronger, and as she's understanding what she's become, it gives her a chance to become an abuser herself. Finally, power. Adults who've never experienced what she's experienced can never know the humiliation and horror, but maybe they can just get a taste of how bad it really is. De Van has channeled those clamshell horror films I loved so much in high school, but she's infused the style of those movies with absolute nihilism. Neve's been condemned to lifelong misery because it's all she knows, which means everyone she's met in life and the whole town could be doomed to an even greater misery. That's the bleak, terrifying undercurrent of Dark Touch: this is what the cycle of abuse is like, unending and apocalyptic.
Dark Touch Review photo
Abuse triggers nihilistic mayhem in a Euro horror throwback
There were so many varying opinions at the screening of Dark Touch I went to. Flixist's pal Steve over at Unseen Films is going to compile some of the reviews from critics who talked to him about Dark Touch because they ...

Review: The Trials of Muhammad Ali

Aug 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215493:40603:0[/embed] The Trials of Muhammad AliDirector: Bill SiegelRating: NRRelease Date: August 23, 2013 Director Bill Siegel sets up a dichotomy at the beginning of the documentary. In old television footage from the mid-1960s, Ali is excoriated as a disgrace to his country; in footage from 2005, Ali receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that a civilian can receive. For those who never lived through the era or perhaps only know Ali by the fondess and adoration that's heaped on him today, the two sides of Ali are striking. This is not the legend but a social pariah, and one deemed un-American. The root of this hatred in Ali at the time came from his religious and political awakening in the mid-60s, much of it due to his association with the Nation of Islam. In chronicling Ali and the Nation of Islam, Siegel notes the group's political dimension, which tended to outweigh its religious practices. There's another striking dichotomy toward the end of the film: in the 1960s, the public at large considered the Nation of Islam a threat while traditional Muslims were deemed okay; today the opposite seems the case. As a young man defining his identity, Ali aligns with the Nation of Islam to assert his blackness. He changes his name as part of this act of self-empowerment and reinvention. This must have seemed radical at the time, but a comfortable historical distance allows us to understand the whole scope of such reclamations of identity and why they're part of the process of social change. The country was in the thick of the civil rights movement and discrimination was the law throughout much of the South. The desire to change a name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali is the same sort of desire that led James Brown to sing "Say it Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud." This impulse also led Ali to take a stance against Vietnam. He refuses to serve because he's a conscientious objector on religious grounds. The patriotic fervor to eradicate communism was still rampant, and so Ali was barred from boxing. In the years he's not permitted to fight, Ali took to the road as a public speaker. Without these events, Ali may not have become the Ali that's loved today, and Siegel takes time to explore this journey. Clay was reborn as Ali as part of his spiritual quest, and thanks his exile from the ring, Ali would be reborn as a champion rather than a villain. What's interesting is that The Trials of Muhammad Ali doesn't quite present a full or obvious comeback arc--we don't wind up at The Rumble in the Jungle like Michael Mann's Ali. Instead there's surprising nuance to the legal case against Ali. (He's not just being tried by the public, there's a legal appeal to the Supreme Court as well.) It's like a win by points, and not a resounding one, but it allows for Ali's return to the ring, and for the public to start seeing him with new eyes. While part of me still wonders how this change in public perception came about, there's a chain of cause and effect that's there, much of which Siegel suggests in footage and new interviews. This is a combination of multiple things, like the evolving face of the Vietnam War, the birth of Ali's charismatic image, the civil rights victories, the losses to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton prior to the Rumble in the Jungle. Mostly it might be about America's love for the comeback kid, both in sports and in public life--the country loves a person who can take a punch and keep standing, proud.
Muhammad Ali Review photo
How Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali
I remember talking to a friend of mine about Muhammad Ali once, and he mentioned the nuttiness of the Ernie Terrell fight in 1967. About three years prior to that match, Ali had joined the Nation of Islam and officially chang...

Review: Cutie and the Boxer

Aug 15 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215437:40001:0[/embed] Cutie and the BoxerDirector: Zachary HeinzerlingRating: RRelease Date: August 16th, 2013 (limited) Ushio Shinohara moved to New York from Japan during the late 1960s. His best known art consists of sculptures made of discarded cardboard -- Harleys, dinosaurs, other machines, all the materials found on the street and dragged back to his studio -- and action paintings in which he straps on boxing gloves saturated with paint and beats up some canvas. The opening credits of Cutie and the Boxer capture Ushio in action making art, which is surprisingly hypnotic. (Part of that is thanks to Yasuaki Shimizu's score.) He's 80 years old but still hits the canvas with enough force to send splatters of paint up high for a minute or two. Think of it as Kirby crackle gone neo-dada. At the end of this display, Ushio poses like he's just floored Sonny Liston. As we learn from her art, Noriko was only 19 when she first moved to the city. She instantly sought out Ushio, who was in his 40s at the time, and the two shacked up pretty immediately. She was young and he needed the money. Noriko's an artist in her own right, but there are times that Ushio thinks of her merely as an assistant or appendage to his own career. Much of their life together is chronicled in a new series of autobiographic watercolors that Noriko's working on called Cutie and Bullie -- she's Cutie, he's Bullie, and between them things aren't always great. Cutie says in broken English, "I'm naked because I'm so poor." Rather than create a standard documentary profile on two artists, Heinzerling approaches the material in a hybrid form. Part of Cutie and the Boxer is done verite style, with the camera simply catching Ushio and Noriko going through their routines and setting up new art shows. There's a sense that the camera isn't even there in the apartment as they eat dinner and worry about bills. This fly-on-the-wall quality breaks occasionally, however. Sometimes the two of them will get into a discussion with each other that functions as if they're also addressing an unspoken question from off camera. It's surprisingly compelling since both artists are interesting and vastly contrasting people to observe. There are two notable breaks from verite, however. Cutie and the Boxer also grabs snippets from previous documentaries on Ushio as well as the couple's home videos and family photographs. The previous Ushio docs reveal the creative side of the couple while the personal videos and photos reveal a home life that's precarious and recklessly bohemian. Their son pops in and out of the film, and he seems extremely withdrawn and private. He's also working on art like his parents. The most fascinating break from verite, however, comes from animated versions of Noriko's Cutie and Bullie series, which is everything that needs to be known about the contours of this relationship told through art. Noriko succinctly identifies the difficulties of two creative people in the same field being in a relationship together: it's like two flowers in the same pot. In order to flourish, each artists will need their own sense of space and identity, but when two artists share so much time together and so much space, there's the possibility of stifling the other person, whether it's intentional or not. One half of the couple may be more successful than the other, or may feel jealousy over a lack of recognition; sometimes artistic identities get mixed or dominated. If they had enough money and enough fame, maybe two separate flowers would be okay in such close proximity, but being an artist in New York isn't easy, and it isn't getting any easier either. Given her own experience moving to New York and essentially supporting Ushio for a time, it makes sense that Noriko would make this observation about a single pot and two plants. She's much younger than he is, and she even put her art career on hold in order to raise their son. Ushio's roots were allowed to take up a lot of soil, and Noriko had to tend to his business rather than allow herself to grow. She's tolerated this with such grace, but there is understandable frustration to her grace, which might be why her Cutie and Bullie series is so rife with emotion and so compelling. I think this just points to another reason why my poet friend never wanted to date or marry another writer. It's nice for a person to be able to have a pot of one's own and to be financially self-sufficient as well. It's hard enough being one struggling artist in a relationship. Two struggling artists can be misery; not just struggling but starving. One home video of a drunk Ushio reveals the suffering of the artist and the noble absurdity of the struggling creative-type: there is greatness in the work, there is acclaim for the work, but behind all that greatness is just the penniless creator and the anxiety of rent and groceries looming over the hungover dawn. But at least there's Noriko. Despite their differences and whatever effects their relationship had on Noriko's work, there's something to these experiences that have allowed them both to come into their own as artists and as people. Ushio could continue to be Ushio, and even aspire to open new facets of himself. Noriko was always herself, and though she may have been in the shadow of Ushio, it's there in the shade that she found her voice and her own artistic identity. Somehow we've gotten to know each of them, as if throughout the film some subtle narrative structure developed simply by observation. The little interactions flesh out the full story of this fascinating relationship. As Ushio and Noriko prepare for a new gallery show, Ushio discusses titles and how he doesn't want anything pretentious. Instead, he looks for inspiration in an issue of Jack Kirby's Devil Dinosuar, and there he finds the name. It's a bestial one, it's primal, it's what he's all about. Noriko gets a say in the name as well, and, like their relationship, what she adds to it is wholly her own. It's difficult for two flowers to share the same pot, but it's miraculous when they cause each other to bloom.
Cutie and Boxer Review photo
The mighty roar of artists Ushio & Noriko Shinohara
A friend of mine who's a poet once told me that she'd never date another writer. If I remember the conversation right, it had a lot to do with sharing too many neuroses and concerns with someone, which would become intolerabl...

Review: Prince Avalanche

Aug 08 // Matthew Razak
Prince AvalancheDirector: David Gordon GreenRated: RRelease Date: August 9th, 2013 What's really impressive about Prince Avalance is just how subtle it is in how it balances drama and comedy. Most of the film could be interpreted as lighthearted, but behind everything is a powerful story packed full of emotions that aren't explained outright, but are constantly boiling underneath the films comedic exterior. There's a palpable sense of character and nuance behind the comedy that elevates the film above your standard high comedy.\ The story lends itself to this. Set after a fictional forest fire in Texas in 1987 the movie is the story of Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch). Alvin has taken a job repainting road lines after the fire in a remote part of Texas and hired Lance, his girlfriend's brother, as a favor to her. The movie follows them as they paint lines and camp out and their lives open up in front of us through their conversations and interactions. This isn't a fast movie as all movement comes from conversations about the things in their life occurring and not actually showing what occurs. Everything is framed by the charred forest and ruined homes caused by the forest fires, and the scenery and story inform each other incredibly. This does mean that the film moves a bit slower than your average fare and it can feel like it's dragging here and there. Thankfully Rudd and Hirsch are easily at the top of their game throughout delivering nuanced performances that garner laughs, but deliver more underneath. In fact most of their laughs aren't pulled from gags or jokes, but from some truly impeccable timing on behalf of both actors. It's great that it works since the two of them are the only people on screen for the majority of the time; there performances only interrupted by Lance LeGault who plays an almost mythical country truck driver that prompts much of the growth of the two characters, and, metaphorically, the surrounding countryside. However, the best part of the film is with the movie's fourth performer who is an actual resident that the crew found sifting around her destroyed home. She gave Rudd, in character, a tour of the her house and it is absolutely heartbreaking. Director David Gordon Green admitted that the scene wasn't even in the original film, which is simply unfathomable once you see it as it seemingly drives both the narrative and the theme forward perfectly. It's one of those scenes that simply makes a movie. Prince Avalanche is probably Rudd's best comedy in a while since it isn't a comedy in itself. It's also an impressively simple film that hits all the right notes between drama and humor while telling the story of a devastated area of our country without explicitly telling it. By doing this it avoids heavy handedness and hits the core of its themes all the better. Hubert Vigilla: There may be two camps on Prince Avalanche by the time of its theatrical release: some will find it exceptional thanks to its insight into male loneliness while others will find it insufferable because of its extreme quirkiness. These two poles may be exemplified in the unique contradictions (in a good way) of Paul Rudd's character: a staunch and condescending outdoorsy-type who loves his me-time, takes everything he does too seriously, and sports a mustache reminiscent of Magnum P.I. or Werner Herzog circa 1981. I'm somewhere in between these extremes since there's a fair amount to admire in Prince Avalanche, much of it thanks to Rudd, who carries most of the picture on his shoulders. Rudd plays against type, while Emile Hirsch works as a foil to that character. It's the classic straight man and funny guy set-up for a comedy duo. Their dialogue expresses the bitterness of two opposites thrown together, but there's a sense that this enmity may grow into mutual understanding and respect. Explosions in the Sky was involved with the score, so that's cool too. But Prince Avalanche is a fairly routine/predictable buddy story. We all know what happens when a guy who needs to loosen up is paired with a dim-witted-but-well-meaning free spirit for an hour and a half. (The journey not the destination; yeah, yeah, sure.) Writer/director David Gordon Green frames this familiar plot in metaphors about rebuilding, relationships, and things lost forever. It's effective in spurts when driven by the performances. Sometimes the meditations on these themes get lost in the film's tonal shifts and moments of indulgence, however, which leads to occasional bouts of navel gazing. 59 -- Average
Prince Avalanche Review photo
What happens when Paul Rudd stops playing Paul Rudd
After the forest fires that destroyed much of the southwest this past year David Gordon Green wanted to make a movie set in the charred forests and ruined homes of the aftermath. What resulted was Prince Avalanche a film...

Interview: Richard Raaphorst (Frankenstein's Army)

Jul 24 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215504:40021:0[/embed] [Editor's note: some of the responses were altered to avoid spoilers. Thanks to Dave of Unseen Films for the photo of Richard Raaphorst after a screening. Concept art from Raaphorst's new projects are from his website, richardraaphorst.com.] Can you talk about where the initial idea for Frankenstein's Army came from? If you think back, it's very hard to understand where an idea comes from because most of the time an idea comes to you. Because you don't expect it. An idea is popping up emotionally out of nowhere. It's like how a neutrino becomes an electron -- there's no reason why it's happening. Ideas sort of like weird scientific phenomenon. Well, it started with an emotion, really. Very abstract. I think 10 years ago -- I'm a big soundtrack collector -- and I bought the soundtrack for Fight Club and there was this intro song, and maybe you can recall it. It was very violent, very mechanical: DZZZGH! DZZZGH! DZZZGH! And it was very staccato. [Editor's note: It's "Stealing Fat" by The Dust Brothers, and it's the embedded video above.] When I played it over and over again, I got this feeling of these mechanical claws, ones that are very rusty and with layers of history. I didn't have a context or whatever, I just knew I wanted to do something with robotic arms made in a clumsy, old-fashioned way. And that was chasing me all the time until I suddenly saw the context for what the story should be. It had many different identities until I realized that I wanted to make an army of Frankensteins, basically. That was my wish -- I analyzed my own wish. And then I thought, "Why not make Frankenstein's Army?" I'm kind of... not really obsessed but fascinated with the Second World War, and so I wanted to do two things. I thought, "How can I combine this?" And I thought, "It's uncombinable," however you say it, so just do it! [laughs] Yeah! Because it's illogical. And that's cool, you know? I'm going to do something which is in fact totally illogical and make the unbelievable believable. That's what I wanted to do. [embed]215504:40022:0[/embed] You mentioned being a soundtrack collector. Are there any personal favorites, or did other soundtracks inform Frankenstein's Army? Yes. There's a lot of stuff from -- well, it's not really soundtracks but it can be soundtracks -- it's from Jim Thirlwell. He's from Australia and lives now in England, and he makes really dark soundtracks, but they don't belong to a film. Interesting. [Editor's note: Thirlwell is probably best known for his work with Coil and Foetus, and also for scoring The Venture Bros.] Do you know what it is about soundtracks? I have a theory about it. Do you have time? Certainly. Please, yeah. It's like paintings. If you paint a landscape, then the landscape is inviting the viewer to step into this world, right? To experience the atmosphere. I'm very into watching atmospheres. As soon as you paint a face or a person in it, the painting doesn't invite you anymore because the focus is entirely going to the main subject. Yeah. The same thing with soundtracks. Soundtracks are inviting you, they're challenging your imagination. You are really swimming into the music rather than singing along with the lyrics. Do you understand this difference? Yeah. There's like this feeling rather than words or a specific image. You create a cloud around you with an atmosphere and that is feeling, that's how it works with me. So basically soundtracks, audio, is the core of inspiration, even the core of those visual ideas in Frankenstein's Army. It all starts with an emotion. Even now when I start to draw, I first try to set down a soundtrack or a tone in a soundtrack. Like Philip Glass in Koyaanisqatsi, there's a second track called "Organic." It only starts with one tone, and that one tone for me is focus. It's an emotion, and everything you can build off of it. [embed]215504:40023:0[/embed] That's actually and interesting theory, though. It makes sense. If everything starts with an emotion then all of a sudden everything can be tethered to that initial tone that goes through. And now that I think further, I think I try to create this line also in this movie because it's first person. There's not really a protagonist. The protagonist is the viewer, so it's the same with soundtracks: you have to fill it in yourself. You are the one that is not getting answers but is asking the questions, yeah? You are the one who's responsible for what's good and bad. I'm not in charge to say that, so in that way I leave a lot open and I leave a lot of it up to imagination. I don't know, it's just that I want to invite. [a beat] You know, the thing with soundtracks is that it's also thin ice because people always look for the things that are missing. They say, "Hey, there are no drums! There's no vocal! There's no lyrics! How can it be music?" It's the same with any other thing which is new. First they look at the things they are missing, and then later when it's been approved, they invent a new genre [label], and then it's suddenly accepted. Once there's a label, you know. Sort of like-- Yeah, the labeling. Once it's become identifiable it winds up-- It needs a stamp. And I think I need a stamp as well on this one. Oh really? I don't have a name for it yet. It's a fusion of many things and it's hard to define which one it is because it's many. And now at the moment I'll call it horror-fusion or fantasy-fusion. It's a mixture with a little of everything. Amid the mixture there's the found footage aspect. Could you talk about your decision to make this the found footage of a Russian propaganda movie, or really a kind of war document on a mad scientist? I took it a little broad, you know? I didn't do it too literally, but I wanted to create a bridge between film and role-playing/first-person perspective gaming. What I said earlier was that I wanted to make the viewer part of the bad guys or the good guys -- the soldiers. I thought, "It's nice if it really comes close to us, and it's us to decide if [what happens] is good or bad." It's so easy to make a judgment from a helicopter's point of view, and that's not how it is in life. It's down in there. We can never pull ourselves above our heads and look around. We are in it, and that's it. So I wanted it to get a kind of intensity, and I thought intensity and atmosphere were more important than building a character from A to Z, and we can say, "Okay, this is a nice character," this is the first act and this is how it develops. We are so used to this grammatical form of movie watching that it becomes very predictable. The pattern, yeah. And that's what I don't like. I don't like being predictable, you know, because it's boring. [laughs] [laughs] I really dug Frankenstein's army itself. Can you talk about creating the individual creatures? Before creating you have to create limits first, or else you can create anything and then it becomes boring again. Things become farfetched. So what I did, I made limitations. I call this an oblique strategy, so you take something from outside with which you can control your creativity. What I did, I got very close to the scriptwriter. He made his own monsters, and I'm going to do literally what he's saying but then in my own way. So he says, "I've got here a zombot with four arms." And when it was designed it looked like shit. What did it-- It looks weird. [Editor's note: At this point we both put our arms up at our sides and waved them around at each other.] You know? [laughs] And I was wrestling with it over and over and over again until I decided that it could walk on four arms. [The description] doesn't say it has to have legs. And so, you know, it became the mosquito guy. Which is such a striking image. Which is totally different from the initial robot guy with four arms. So this was really working for me, because it brought me further than my own imagination. This is how I work. I always like to listen to other people's briefs and take it and do my own thing with it. Because if everything needs to come out of your own head, the ideas will be pretty empty pretty quick, you know? Yeah. For me it was like a nice play through, yeah. Do you have a favorite zombot? Totally. It's the little walking trash bin. Oh, that guy's awesome! [laughs] Yeah! I thought, "I want to reduce someone to the bare minimum," you know? Just a walking trash bin with legs. And it's very unclear what it can do. Exactly. It's just this weird presence which shows a madness, but I was always trying to figure what his purpose would be. Like, "Is he just an ottoman?" There's a melody line in it, in the designs, because what I did was start organic and I ended robotic. So I started as human I can do, without any attachments. Even when they're completely naked, the beginning. Then you see a variation with clothes on. And then it goes further and further and further until propeller head. He's the most extreme one, and you cannot top yourself anymore, so then you have to go into a different kind of atmosphere. So if you look at the traditional three-act structure, it isn't there, but I used different arcs, like spiraling down in visual madness, which is overtaken, and then suddenly the whole found footage idea becomes a one-take steady shot, and everything takes place in front [of the camera] like theater. Which is the opposite of the beginning. My approach was totally different from the traditional way, but I think there's no other way for me. Was there a particularly difficult sequence to stage? Was there a very difficult-- Everything was extremely difficult. Really? Everything in the interiors because the takes were so long and everything was practical, it was absolutely undoable. I mean, of course it was doable because we prepared so well, but we could only afford four takes at the maximum. We had 20 days of shooting. So it's go-go-go. It was like a military operation, and no one was allowed to make mistakes. But it was great fun. I became the bigger me. [laughs] [laughs] Could you explain? You realize that you are capable of doing things that you are not aware about. It's you pushing the bar so high that the only way to get there is to force yourself to grow, and it matters for everyone there. It was, "This is the plan and we're going to do it, no matter what." And there's zero tolerance, and there was also this energy that was very addictive with everyone. And yeah, I think it worked very well. We did everything we planned to do. No pages were torn out. I would have assumed with a short shoot like that you'd eventually go, "What don't we need?" But you kept everything. And we did even something extra sometimes. What was one of the add-ons? Well, we thought we needed another zombot in the factory sequence. There's an industrial American thing standing in the corner. We need just an extra detail, you know? Everything is in the details. That's where I wanted to have it detailed as possible, and sometimes we are running out of details so we created some more. There were some fighting scenes we added, and the zombot with the exploding eye. Oh yeah. That was extra. Just a few hours preparation and we just did it. It's quite amazing, but of course, last day we were totally zombots ourselves. [laughs] [laughs] Yeah, you guys were probably mostly machines. Yeah. I really admire the use of practical effects. Do you have any thoughts about CG? Yeah, of course. I do a lot of CG in commercials, but only when it's not visible, because I think it's misused a lot. Nowadays, every nice shot looks like a postcard: beautiful clouds, the perfect sky, you know? It's like a painter is making all the shots, and I don't like that at all. I like eye candy myself a lot, but it doesn't mean that it has to be painted [and look] dead. Practical effects feel physical even when it's with foam and it's puppety, it's real-made. There's a presence. Yeah, and digital is out of computer and it doesn't have any charm. And I wanted to make a character movie. Every zombot needed to be a character and also I thought for the soldiers it was important to distinguish themselves from each other, but also I wanted the location to be a character, and each room needed to be a character, and also the movie itself needed to be a character. So there's no way for CG. If I would add CGI it would be characterless. It's the difference between an oil painting and an airbrush. Yeah. Or a Photoshop. It looks even more perfect, but you don't have texture. Texture is what gives you charm, that's what I believe anyway. I can only speak for myself. On the note of texture, I guess, or charm, one of the moments of film I liked so much involved the scene with the brains toward the end with Frankenstein himself. It's such a kooky, mad idea, but maybe it's also utopian in a warped way. [laughs] It was one of the-- The most difficult thing of this movie was trying to define the character of Frankenstein, because I didn't want to do anything that was the same as we've known him. Everybody who was thinking of Frankenstein saw this distinguished gentleman. Like Peter Cushing in a Hammer Movie. And I was constantly hammering that this was not the case. I only got people [auditioning] who were fitting into this Peter Cushing kind of stuff until I met Karel Roden, and then suddenly I realized, "You are the guy. You are so out of the box." He has this mysterious aspect. It's the same thing that you cannot really define who he was, and this is what made him very interesting. But also he was so critical of why Frankenstein is doing the things that he does. And he's just a guy who wants to end the war, but he's a very simple guy. His father did all the science, so he doesn't need to be intellectual or smart. He like a mechanic almost. It's like a car factory worker! Exactly. Or a plumber. "Oh, this works. Next!" And it was more like that, and I thought, "Now that's a Frankenstein I never have seen." And you know, I don't really want to make it too serious, I want to entertain. I thought, "You know, it starts maybe a bit serious, but then we can add more and more humor, and I think it worked out pretty well. When you see too many monsters, they will be boring, so I needed to boost up just a real human being. Who himself is just fascinating to see on camera. But you know, when you hear him talking, he's even crazier than the craziest zombot. There's another twist. And... [a beat] Oh you were talking about Frankenstein and the brain. We had this back and forth about what he wants. He wants to end the war. How? He wants to make the sides understand each other. How? [laughs] And that's how the brain came about! [laughs] It's brilliant! [laughs] It's like a mechanic who doesn't know anything about neurology going, "Yeah, why not?" But it's the heart of things... or it's the brain of things. [laughs] I wanted to have this like a pictogram, just as a symbol almost. This was a shot that was not in the script at first, but created it in two weeks before wrap. The special effects guy, he said, "I don't have any budget anymore!" He used everything he had. But we found a way to make it work by re-using old material. Repurposing old brains! Nice! But that's the Frankenstein way of thinking again. Not only did you create zombots but-- We tried to use everything. It's an extra shot, but it's my favorite shot. It's the moment in the movie where everything about Frankenstein kind of makes sense. It's like, "Ah, that's why he's doing it... Oh god, that's why he's doing it?" And how he's doing it is like-- Obvious almost. [laughs] [laughs] What's next for you? Any projects down the pipeline? I'm developing two scripts very seriously and I'm going to shoot two trailers for both projects, and I'm going to the market at the end of this year. Also I'm very open-minded to do a sequel to Frankenstein's Army. There's a lot of potential there. As a matter of fact, we have an outline already, and it's... Well, I cannot say anything but I can't wait too break it out. I have keep myself, or I have to control myself not to work it out too early. [laughs] Can you say anything about the other two scripts you're working on? Ummm... They're both biological horror. And one of them is more science fiction and it's about the Higgs boson. And the other one is based on Dutch legends in which there are children who are buried in the soil. They come back. Their hands grow above the surface, and the hands are in the shape of mushrooms begging for mercy. And when you eat those mushrooms, those kids are going to haunt your head. That sounds incredible! [laughs] [laughs] And the Higgs boson is about the discovery of the Higgs. Do you know what the Higgs is? I'm not familiar. They call it the God particle. Ah, okay. They discovered it in Geneva in the CERN. The particle has no mass but it's... Okay, the Higgs boson goes like this. [Editor's note: Raaphorst demonstrated a path with his finger traveling through a Coke can on the table.] And it goes slow, slow, slow, and because it's going slow here that this can materializes. So [the characters in the film] fuck up the Higgs boson, so you can imagine what will happen with a Coke can like this, but also human beings! That sounds awesome! Both of them sound awesome. [laughs] [laughs] So I'm making designs right now, and I want to try to be as original as H.R. Giger in Alien.
Frankenstein Interview photo
Director Richard Raaphorst discusses the music and mayhem of Nazi zombots
Even though I had issues with the found-footage aspect of Frankenstein's Army, there's a great anarchic imagination in the film, and it belongs to director Richard Raaphorst. I had a chance to sit down and talk with Raaphorst...

Interview: The directors of V/H/S/2 (The Snack Pack)

Jul 11 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215531:40058:0[/embed] [Jason and Eduardo,] how were you contacted to be a part of this sequel? Jason Eisener: I was following the press and the reviews coming out of Sundance for the first V/H/S, and it just sounded really interesting that a lot of people I knew were really excited about a found footage movie. So I was intrigued to see it, and Roxanne Benjamin, the producer of the film, she contacted me and told me they were doing a sequel and would love to have me involved. She sent me a private link to the original, and I was inspired by how they used that genre, found footage, in such an interesting way, with so many great perspectives. Just a lot of energy in it, it was really fun. It kind of felt like going to a haunted house ride, and I always wanted to do something kind of like that. Once I saw it, I came up with an idea. If they're not into it, then I tried, but if they are, then that would be amazing. And yeah, they were down. Simon Barrett: I mean it's notable that-- Eduardo, you saw V/H/S as a link too? You didn't see it with a... Eduardo Sánchez: Yeah. Like, I mean, I had been hearing about the buzz, and I hadn't gotten a chance to see it at SXSW, so then they talked with me about doing a second, so they sent me the link. You know, being the Blair Witch guy, I definitely follow what's been going on with found footage, and I thought that they definitely pushed it in a really interesting direction. I just kind of wanted to not be left behind, you know? And that was really my big thing with the second one: I don't want to be the weak link, you know what I mean? And for us, for me and Gregg [Hale], if we find the right story -- kind of like Jason -- if we find the right story, then we'll do it. If not, I don't want to half-ass it, but Jamie Nash, the writer, came up with this really clever zombie idea, and I was like, "Wow, that's really cool, and it's really entertaining." It's one of these ideas where you're kind of laughing at it as you're reading the treatment, and I knew it was going to be a lot of fun and something we could pull off. They liked the idea, and Jamie had been talking to [producer] Brad Miska about it and stuff. It came together pretty quickly after that. Simon Barrett: Yeah, they both watched it as a link at home so they couldn't hear the audience booing and telling us to get off the stage, or, like chucking fruit at Adam and me. [laughs] SB: So they didn't realize what the experience is. Adam Wingard: But that's just a Snack Pack thing. JE: I wish audiences would through snacks at us. ES: Oh yeah. SB: I wish they would too. AW: That'd be awesome. Have you guys in a town square in manacles or stocks and just... ES: Or like with a net! [laughs] AW: Yeaaaaah! JE: Catchin' all those snacks! ES: Like Halloween! JE: Save 'em for later. [laughs] That'd be kind of awesome if they did that too. SB: There's many reasons why they call us the Snack Pack filmmakers, and one of them is that we love snacks. The other one is that people throw food at us after our movies. [laughs] How apropos. SB: So there's actually multiple layers of meaning. Like definitely, 70 years from now people aren't going to remember how we exactly got that term. AW: Mhm. SB: But they will look to this interview. AW: They will remember that our films are delicious. [laughs] That should be on someone's tombstone. JE: [laughs] Not too filling! SB: [laughs] No, not too filling. You don't feel sustained. AW: No, you don't feel quite satisfied. [laughs] ES: But it does give you a little bit of a high, like, eat something else! [laughs] [laughs] Could you guys all talk about the challenges of working in short formats versus features? [To Adam Wingard] Or acting in them, too? AW: Yeah. ES: [At Adam Wingard] I think this guy had the worst-- JE: Performance? Oh, there's gonna be a fight! ES: [laughs] No, no. You had the worst time, Adam, I think. AW: No, I definitely did not have the worst time. I'm pretty sure Jason had the worst time. He had a dog, and a bunch of kids... [Editor's note: At this point in the recording, everyone's kind of laughing and talking at the same time, so I can't make anything out save for Adam Wingard saying, "this fucking."] AW: I mean... Uh, wait, what was the question again? SB: How did... JE: The challenges of... AW: Oh yeah, well the funny thing is that the challenges are all unique to everyone's thing. Found footage in general has its own challenges because it's a medium that, stylistically, is dictated by what the characters are shooting the film on. So your story is kind of set around a pre-set way you have to shoot the movie, which is a unique thing that you don't run into in any other sub-genres of film. You're locked into that and there's no way out of it and you're totally committed to it. Specifically for my short, I wanted to do something completely the opposite of what I did on the first V/H/S, which was a very lo-fi, very crazy, frenetic thing. And this time around, I wanted to do something that audiences would actually enjoy, so... [laughs] AW: [laughs] So I wanted to do something that kind of wasn't based on real technology, because the first one was to me was all about authenticity, so I felt like because we were feeling so over-the-top, this movie afforded me the ability to come up with my own unique technology. Basically, Simon and I, the way we worked it out was I said, "Hey, what if we had a thing where a guy gets a camera eye implant?" And I came up with the whole story from there. Shooting it was a pain in the ass because I had to wear a huge camera attached to my body, and so forth and all of that stuff. JE: [To Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett] Yeah. I honestly think, though, that you guys's short is the future of found footage. Like when Google Glasses come out, and more cameras in people's eyeballs, which I'm sure is going to happen. That's going to be our perspective, and people are going to be making movies from that perspective, or we're going to download Simon's week. "Let's see Simon's week." ES: I don't want to see that. [laughs] [laughs] SB: I'll be like looking at you guys and I'll be like, "Man, I love you guys," but really I'm just looking at a big plate of snacks with my Google Glasses. AW: Yeah! [laughs] AW: "Why does [Simon] keep looking at my crotch?" [laughs] AW: "I keep looking at this footage, and he's..." SB: "It's because when I see people with these glasses I'm just seeing snacks." JE: But I do love that perspective. It's something I want to play around with too. Something in first person. AW: Yeah, that perspective. Someone needs to do it better. [laughs] [laughs] AW: I tried to like take Doom a step further. JE: Yeah! [laughs] I want to do Doom 2 so bad! SB: You should just make a shot-for-shot remake of Doom with the same special effects. AW: Not the-- ES: Aw yeah! [laughs] ES: I guess The Rock would still be in it... Have his face down at the bottom like the dude's head! ES: Yeah, and like he gets bruised! JE: That'd be great! SB: From a writing perspective, doing shorts actually provides you with solutions instead of challenges, because if you're doing a found footage horror feature, the whole logic of why the camera's still running and why they're still filming things as it gets more dangerous and chaotic is a common complaint from found footage films. In the shorts format, you really don't run into that, and you can also do things that are more experimental. Like Jason and Eduardo did. The camera, you know, in theory wouldn't last a whole hour and a half, and you can do this one continuous thing in the shorts format, so it gives you some cool opportunities just for the story element of why they're filming and what they're filming with. You can use like button cameras and GoPros and stuff like like. ES: Yeah, I mean, I hadn't done a short film since films school, so for me it was like... I had just finished another feature, and so it was just fun. Just a short schedule, and I was able to film it near my house. When you're doing a feature it's like this long war. You're like, "Oh my god, this is four weeks," or whatever. Six weeks. You're like, "Holy shit," you know? So you have to take it day by day. With a short it's like, "It's four days. Ah, fuck it." So it was just a lot more fun, and just the subject matter was so light and goofy. I'd been wanting to make a comedy for a while. AW: Did I answer the wrong question again? Ahhh... I think...? AW: I probably did. There are no wrong answers, Adam. ES: There are no wrong answers, man: we're the Snack Pack! [Editor's note: Eduardo Sánchez and Adam Wingard high five.] [laughs] JE: NICE! SB: I mean, it's not your fault. I think Jason told you the question wrong. JE: Maybe. I don't even remember exactly. SB: Whenever anyone gets confused what the question is, Jason just shouts out, "Challenges!" [laughs] AW: So that's what I heard. SB: You can ask something else completely, but we'll just complain about making our movies. There ya go. SB: It gives us an excuse to do what we want to do, which is complain bitterly about being filmmakers. JE: Yeah. AW: It's a hard life. SB: It is, it is. And we'll make several films about it. [laughs] Would they be found footage as well? SB: It would be like found footage horror versions of like Living in Oblivion. [laughs] SB: But we'll be like in the other room looking at the monitor on our iPhones because we wouldn't want to come out of the bathtub, and we won't let any crew in the bathroom with us. ES: Pretty much too. SB: And the bathtub is full of... snacks. [laughs] Bringing that back around. SB: There's no water in it. That's why we're dehydrated constantly. When you guys were coming up with the stories, were they any pitches that got shot down, or was it pretty much the first ones out that got picked? SB: The first V/H/S was a fairly complicated and largely spontaneous process. We were kind of figuring out what that movie was up until locking picture in terms of what was in it and where. This came together really quickly. Pretty much as soon as we knew we were doing a V/H/S sequel, we knew who was doing it and everyone submitted their treatments or concepts to us and we were figured, "Okay, this is great, let's go." With this one, there were not any false starts. There might have been a couple filmmakers that we reached out to an at early stage that didn't end up working on the film, but I feel that was almost because this core team came together really quickly. And then we were like, "Oh, we've got a 90-minute movie. Stop!" Let's take a lesson from the first one and quit. I'm doing the math and this is a feature film. Let's quit now and make the movie. So that's kind of it; let's not keep adding filmmakers until it was two hours long. It happened bizarrely fast. Everyone just sort of had a window Either they were just finishing up a project like Eduardo or, in [my case and Adam's case], we were kind of gearing up bigger projects that were taking a lot of time to do pre-production, so we were all just able to put this feature together. JE: I threw in like two pitches, and the other pitch was a strategically so bad that they'd go for the idea that I really wanted to go for. SB: But it backfired and we went with the bad one. [laughs] [laughs] SB: The other idea was a found footage werewolf/vampire relationship movie, which he was really wanted to make. Jason was very passionate about that tragic love triangle. ES: I was really looking forward to that because I'd never seen werewolf full-on penetration before. [laughs] ES: I thought that was brilliant. It was graphic. He has like a cock-cam. [laughs] SB: The eye does not waver. The eye does not flinch. So instead of the dog-cam, it would be the werewolf cock-cam. SB: He was really passionate about that, thought it'd be really beautiful. JE: And there'd be a werewolf cock running away from aliens. [laughs] JE: We actually shot a lot of that. That's what a werewolf's cock looks like. AW: I would like to see a werewolf in like a standard New York City cop uniform. Like with hair coming out. SB: But yeah, we were like, "We want the other idea," and Jason was like, "Dammit." That's what he ended up having to make. Do you all have any favorite parts about filming the shorts? SB: You mean parts that weren't awful? Yeah. I guess parts that didn't feel like dying. AW: Well for me, I had a horrible experience shooting You're Next, and pretty much everything I've done in the last few years, because it was so stressful. And I was in a lot of physical pain when I was shooting You're Next, for instance. So I kind of somehow psychologically lumped filmmaking into being a horrible experience for a little while. I had this bad tooth problem the whole time I was shooting You're Next, and editing it. Was it like a root canal or something? JE: Why didn't you get it fixed? AW: I tried to get it fixed, but they couldn't figure it out. They ended up doing a couple different root canals on these teeth. They couldn't figure out what was wrong, and ultimately I had to get this surgery right after You're Next premiered. ES: Where they put a camera in your eye? AW: [laughs] Exactly! [laughs] AW: Keep eyein' all those snacks comin' in! But, no, doing this short was actually a lot of fun, because I had a great crew. Seamus Tierney, [the DP,] he just kept it really on point and stuff, and I never had the experience of having a DP with a crew that he could just motivate, you know. I always had stuff that looked good, but I never had a crew that was as efficient as that. And I wasn't in horrible pain. That was nice. ES: Not being in physical pain helps. [laughs] AW: The whole thing was great experience for me, honestly, because it just went smooth as far as that was concerned, at least better than anything else ever has. ES: I mean like Adam... Well, it wasn't pleasurable, but the craziest thing that ever happened -- and I wound up having good luck because I could have died -- was we were scouting at this location in the woods where we shot the short. And Gregg, the other director, and I noticed a lot of dead trees. So Gregg's like, "I wonder if we can knock that tree down." And so we start knocking trees down. [Editor's note: Everyone busts up laughing.] ES: And there was like this big-ass tree! JE: I hate trees! ES: So we start [shoving it] and someone's like, "That thing's going to snap! It's going to crack! It's going to fall! Half of it's going to come down!" I was about to step away because I was like, "Man, he's right," and tree cracked and a freakin' 10-foot section of big-ass-fucking-tree came down on my head. JESUS! ES: Like right on the side of my head and on my shoulder and leg-- JE: This was the most fun you had making this? [laughs] [laughs] ES: It's fucking stupid, man! SB: The part where you fucked up some trees? [laughs] ES: I'm 43 years old, I have three kids, and I'm like fucking tearing down this tree in the woods. Like, what the fuck are we doing?! My head bled. I thought I was going to pass out. I say down on the ground and was like, "All right... Am I gonna pass out?" But I tell you, if the thing had gone in the middle (of my body), it would have broken my neck or I would have at least been in the hospital for a while. AW: Oh my god. Holy fucking shit! ES: So it was good luck! Good times! [laughs] JE: I had that happen to me with one of my best friends. We were camping once. He was shaking a tree and the top part of it broke off. ES: Yeah! JE: And I open up my tent to see his face covered in blood, and we were in the middle of the woods. It was fucked! ES: Lot of pain. [embed]215531:40061:0[/embed] SB: That's the problem of going out in the woods. You start fucking up the trees, because what are they doing? They're just looking at you. Like I hate that when I go to the woods and see a tree just mad-dogging me. I'm like, "What's up, bro?" JE: Yeah, yeah! [laughs] SB: And the tree doesn't stop. We're gonna get into it now! [The tree's like,] "I've been here 600 years! Whatchoo want?" ES: It was a dead tree, so you have to like clean it up. SB: Yeah, no. And then you see all these other trees in like a mob here, so I just start throwing elbows... ES: We didn't fuck around with the trees after that. [laughs] SB: And that's funny. That led ultimately to, in a sort of circular way, Jason's short film Treevenge. [laughs] AW: But at least your eco-- JE: Savagery? AW: Ended with you getting hit in the head and not getting raped by the woods. ES: Yeah. SB: Yeah. JE: Yeah. SB: Are you saying lessons were learned? JE: Some lessons were definitely learned. ES: Correct! AW: [laughs] Thank god, or we'd be wheeling you around in a wheelchair. ES: What would you have told my wife?! The woods did it to him? ES: "Oh, we were out KNOCKING DOWN A TREE! And then the tree fell on us. Sorry."
VHS2 Snack Pack Interview photo
An 18-minute Snack Pack attack w/ Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Eduardo Sánchez, and Adam Wingard
It's odd how things work. The day after I wrote a very negative review about a found footage movie I didn't like, I wound up interviewing four of the directors responsible for V/H/S/2, a found footage movie that I did like. G...

Review: Byzantium

Jun 27 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]215243:39896:0[/embed] ByzantiumDirector: Neil JordanRelease Date: TBDRating: NRCountry: United Kingdom I wonder who decided to make actress Saoirse Ronan's hair dark. She's currently in a number of films, including the upcoming adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's The Host (which sadly has no connection to Bong Joon-Ho's 2006 film of the same name), and any of the various directors could have decided that the once-blonde star of Hanna should be a brunette. If it wasn't Neil Jordan, though, he owes that person a debt of gratitude. There is something both off-putting and irresistible about a person with light blue eyes and darker hair, and it is an excellent visual representation of Ronan's character in Byzantium. Eleanor Webb is a 200-year-old vampire living in an 18 year old's body, someone at once terrifying and fascinating. Vampires in Byzantium are, to put it mildly, different from those in general vampire lore, right from their appearance: they don't have fangs. Instead, their thumbnails extend and sharpen, perfect for puncturing a major vein or artery. They can see themselves in mirrors, aren't affected by sunlight, and aren't particularly averse to garlic or crosses or anything of the sort. They seem to be a bit stronger than the average person, but not significantly so, and though they are surely more durable, a blade to the neck leads to a swift end. The most notable trait they retain from the mythology, in fact, is the invitation requirement so brilliantly captured by 2008's Let the Right One In. That being said, this is relevant only twice and the rules of invitation are not entirely clear. For example, Eleanor Webb is a brilliant piano player (as she would have to be after centuries of practice), but she demonstrates it by walking into an old-folks home and sitting at the piano and playing. No one knows who she is or why she's there, but she sits down and plays nonetheless. I loved the scene because I loved the music, but she did just kind of walk in without an invitation. The vampiric detectives who follow Eleanor Webb and her actually-monstrous black-haired, brown-eyed mother Clara (Gemma Arterton) also don't seem to need prompting when they arrive at a person's door, but maybe it's the technicality that the people behind the door are oftentimes dead. If there are rules, they really aren't explained very well. I imagine people are wondering how Byzantium tacks up to Neil Jordan's other vampire film, Interview with a Vampire, and I have to say that I can't tell you. I haven't seen Interview with a Vampire, and though I considered doing so to give some more context to this review, I decided against it. Instead, I'll compare it to another Jordan monster movie, The Company of Wolves. That film, a werewolf story, follows a Little Red Riding character, and I feel that Byzantium is the same way. It's not just that Eleanor Webb wears a red hooded coat, but it's the idea of a naive girl who is led away from her path into some sort of temptation. In this case, her temptation is a sickly ginger boy named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), and the temptation is to tell her story. The story is one she has written many times on pages that she has thrown to the wind or the sea or pretty much anywhere at all, so long as no one else could see them, but she decides that Frank is the one to break the... Hmmm... The umm... You know what? I don't really know. What exactly does she think telling Frank is going to accomplish? And how is it that in the nearly two hundred years she has been with the evil Clara (who goes around prostituting herself for money, something Eleanor has thus far avoided) and not once slipped up and told somebody? She may look like she's 16, but she's nearly two centuries old. At some point, Little Red Riding Hood's naivete goes from being sad to just pathetic. If Little Red were 200 years old, no one would feel for her when she was taken in by a wolf in her grandmother's clothing. And even if we are supposed to believe that somehow someone can remain so stupidly pure and innocent for such a long time, how do we explain that her innocence was forcibly taken from her nearly two centuries before the start of the film? Unless she's supposed to have reverted to some infantile stage or something, I don't see any way to justify her actions, and if she was supposed to have reverted, well she didn't go far enough. And here's where the threads start to show. As I watched Byzantium, I was struck by the beautiful cinematography and the haunting soundtrack, and I felt like I was watching something truly incredible. When I watch movies for review, I keep a general sense of what I think my final score will be in my head. Sometimes when the review is written the score at the bottom will fit nicely in that spectrum, and sometimes it won't, but I try to gauge my own reaction to a film as I'm watching it. With Byzantium, that number was high, much much higher than the number you'll see below, and that's because I was swept up by the audiovisual splendor of it all. As soon as it ended, I turned to Hubert and asked him what he thought. He liked it quite a bit less than I did (as you'll read below). We started talking about it immediately (and another critic got very angry at us) and everything he said made a lot of sense. And after that conversation, as I mulled it over in my head, I realized I had been taken in. Were Byzantium nothing more than a piece of entertainment, this would actually be quite a commendable thing. It would be like watching a Christopher Nolan film. Inception is amazing and gorgeous and a spectacle, but it also makes no goddamn sense when you realize that there is an entire week of missing time on the first level of the dream. It's a stupidly large plot hole that would completely destroy the impact of the movie if it were going for art and impact, but it's not. It's just damn fine entertainment. Byzantium wants to be art (and maybe a little bit of entertainment) but can't hold up its end of the bargain. It's a great-looking film, and I definitely think it's worth watching, but understand that what's onscreen is actually a sham. The underlying framework is every bit as shoddy as a dream within a dream within a dream. Hubert Vigilla: I really admired the vampire lore of Byzantium, with its centuries-long roots, its deadly brotherhoods, and its striking imagery of starlings and blood. There's also a unique spin on gender and tradition in this vampire mythology that's promising for greater exploration. While I think all of that is really rich material to play with, Byzantium ultimately feels like a dud of a story set in a dynamite universe. A lot of that has to do with the character Eleanor, who's underwritten and underconsidered. Ronan's performance is fine, but Eleanor the character is too naïve for someone around 200 years old. It's as if she's still a teenage girl who's never even kissed a boy on the cheek, but we know that she's lived a hard and brutal life in a cruel world as a vagabond/grifter. More than that, she's been surviving basically on the run the entire time with the much savvier Clara, who by contrast is a fully realized character with an actual sense of history behind her. Eleanor has a strange impulse to share her life story with others, but I still don't know what she hopes she'd gain from it. A normal life, which would be impossible since she's ageless and immortal and hunted? Acceptance in a world that doesn't believe in vampires? While it doesn't make sense in-story, it's at least a convenient device to drop large chunks of exposition when needed. Since this is never made clear, Eleanor gummed up the entire film for me. I'm also not sure what I make of her fledgling romance with Frank since it never once struck me as believable. They don't even have an awkward chemistry together; they're just plain awkward. 50 -- Average
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The story of a 200-year-old Little Red Riding Hood
Imagine you are in a large store and off in the distance you see a quilt. It’s an intriguing design, and you walk towards it, fascinated. It’s really a gorgeous thing, brilliantly composed with designs depicting b...

Review: Before Midnight

May 24 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]215234:39888:0[/embed] Before MidnightDirector: Richard LinklaterRating: RRelease Date: May 24, 2013 Going into Before Midnight, I was partly convinced that it would take place over the course of three minutes. At the beginning of Before Sunset, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) talks about a novel that he wants to write a book that takes place over the course of a pop song, and I thought that maybe the team would just go for that. Before Sunrise is a near-perfect look at one night together, and Before Sunset is a near-perfect real-time recreation of a reunion. There were two options: go big or go small. I didn't actually think it would go for the latter, but some part of me hoped it would. Instead, the film goes bigger. In it, Jesse has written a second book and is working on his third. He describes it, how it's bigger than anything that has come before, with more characters and more action. It's on an entirely different level, and so is Before Midnight. Not in terms of quality but of scope. I saw the previous films only a few days prior to watching Before Midnight, and I'm glad I did that for a number of reasons. The most important is that I'm finally old enough to start appreciating them. Had I seen the movies years ago, I would have applauded the beautifully minimalist camerawork and unparalleled characterization and dialogue, but the underlying emotions are too complex and realistic for an immature teenager. That's not to say I'm somehow emotionally more mature than everyone else (I'm still too young for a film about 41 year olds and their troubled marriage to truly hit), but now I can feel what these films are going for rather than just seeing it. In the context of Before Midnight, my youth doesn't even matter. Perhaps the highlight of the film is a conversation about love involving people of various ages. Their ideas offer Jesse and Celine's 18-year cinematic relationship new perspectives. Whether you're in your twenties or your eighties, the film speaks for you and your generation. While I don't agree with the way the young Greek couple sees the world, I know people who would. These companions add greater scope and significance to the discussion about love, resulting in conversations that are more broadly relevant than what could have come from two characters talking for 108 minutes. But even if it had just been 108 minutes of Jesse and Celine talking, I wouldn't have minded too much. The other reason I'm glad I saw the films so close together is because it made me realize just how incredible the performances by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are. I realized while watching Before Sunset that Jesse and Celine are possibly the two most consistent and compelling characters to be put on screen. Seeing the three films practically back to back to back is bizarre. It feels like Richard Linklater and a camera crew are just showing up every nine years to check in on these people. And because of that, every time there was a cut, it surprised me just a little bit. The cuts reveal that Before Midnight is more than an incredibly elaborate multi-camera setup. It all feels so real that any evidence of artifice is jarring and saddening. Because they are more than characters; they are people. I said characters before, but I didn't mean it. Jesse and Celine are not really characters. There's not a single faltering moment in the committed performances in any of the three films. Even as the actors have changed, their characters have stayed the same. Jesse and Celine's 18-year history may as well be Ethan Hawke's and Julie Delpy's. To think that they don't go home to each other at the end of the day is shocking, and I imagine that their actual significant others feel at least somewhat uneasy about their chemistry. In Before Midnight, that chemistry is still on display, even as resentment replaces spontaneity. Celine and Jesse are married and they have kids, but the flame that made the first two films so romantic is all but extinguished. It's the feeling that I'm too young to relate to, but it's one that's conveyed so impeccably that I don't need to know it myself. I can feel it through them, and it's heartbreaking. Jesse is pulled towards his son, who lives in America, while Celine wants to keep the family in Europe and pursue her own career. It's a difficult situation, and there's no clear way to proceed. The kids shape their parents's lives. The friends who the couple spent their time with also affect them. This relationship which was so intimate is now public. All of these things add up to a film that stands with its predecessors as shining examples of dramatic cinema. This is filmmaking at its finest, and I have trouble believing that another film will come along this year that tops it. I feel conflicted about the number you see below you, which is among the highest I've ever given. On another scale, I might have given Before Midnight a 10/10 or five stars or whatever. But to break a 95, a film must change the way I think of film, to truly affect my relationship with the medium. Before Midnight doesn't do that, but it does everything else. Regardless, Before Midnight is a film that you absolutely must see. It is truly spectacular, and with it, the Before films are cemented as one of the most perfect trilogies in cinema history. Hubert Vigilla: Before Midnight is easily going to be one of the best films of 2013, and I've already reserved a slot for it somewhere in my top five of the year. Watching the movie felt like catching up with old friends I haven't seen in a long while. So much of what's happened in the intervening years since Before Sunset is conveyed naturally through the writing, which is just as fresh and as alive as the first two films in the series. It feels like Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy have only deepened their initial ideas on love, and a tinge of sad, hard-earned wisdom can be found in a lot of the film, which makes so many moments cut with painful truths about divorce, bitterness, jealousy, sex, parenthood, and regret. There's a different sort of tone to Before Midnight given what's happened in the last nine years and what's at stake on this particular day of Jesse and Celine's lives. If Before Sunrise was about young love and love at first sight, and Before Sunset was about second chances with the one that got away, Before Midnight is about what happens to complicated relationships that have lasted this long. Do Jesse and Celine have something that goes deeper than just flirtation and brief encounters, or is this the death of their magic? (And is the idea of love as magic bullshit?) Before Midnight is the biggest movie in the series so far, expanding its conversation about the nature of relationships outside of Jesse and Celine's thoughts on the matter. There's a wonderful scene in the film that's reminiscent of Plato's The Symposium, in which different people talk about their ideas of love. That riff on Plato makes what happens afterward seem like a bit of peripatetic philosophy about love, which is really what all these films have been. Like one of Plato's dialogues, the philosophy comes in the form of a work of art; unlike the dialogues, there's no pedantic argument toward a divine answer. What we're left with instead are the beautiful complications of real life. Everywhere the film dazzles with this sort of undeniable authenticity. This is a movie that reminds you why you like its characters, and why you'd want to see more of them. But more than that, Before Midnight is the kind of movie that makes you remember why you fall in love with movies. 92 -- Spectacular
Before Midnight Review photo
Part three of one of the most perfect trilogies in cinema
To follow up Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, two of the best character pieces ever made, was always going to be a challenge. Keeping that quality and that momentum going into a third film made another nine years later ...

Tribeca doc Oxyana causes controversy in West Virginia

May 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215584:40062:0[/embed]
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Some residents of Oceana, WV claim the film misrepresents their community
Alec and I didn't like the drug addiction documentary Oxyana at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Apparently we're not alone. A number of West Virginia residents are upset with director Sean Dunne and claim that he has misre...

Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Flixist Awards and Recap

May 07 // Flixist Staff
Yeah, Before Midnight won our Best of Sundance award back in January, so maybe it shouldn't be up for this award here, but you know what? Don't care. This movie is absolutely, truly incredible. If you haven't seen Before Sunrise or Before Sunset (and I hadn't until the days leading up to seeing Before Midnight), you're doing yourself a huge disservice. You have to see those films, and then you have to see this one. I don't know what else there is to say. Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine may be cinema's two most consistently compelling characters, and the commitment that the actors bring to their roles is unparalleled. If this movie doesn't end up my favorite film of 2013, I will be shocked. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read the full review here!) The Rocket is a charming real-life fairy tale about a boy who believes he's cursed and the travails of his displaced family. There's a rich subtext to the film about home, belonging, tradition, and old culture, and it's also got explosions and a guy in a purple suit who loves James Brown -- so what's not to love? Director Kim Mordaunt's seemingly intuitive direction avoids exoticizing Laotian culture and yet captures the childlike awe of the world. The first-time actors deliver fine performances, especially the young lead Sitthiphon Disamoe, possibly because none of them are trying to underact or overact the others. It's great to see heart-warming movie like this which is free of sentimentality or manipulative filmmaking. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) Bending Steel took me by surprise. Going in I was expecting some light exploration of the strongman in pop culture, but instead Dave Carroll's film is an inspiring look at a man finally realizing what his calling is in life. At 43 years old, Chris "Wonder" Schoeck's quest to become an old-time strongman reveals a close-knit community of performers whose feats of strength are a reminder of our capacity to do incredible things. It's also a reminder of the importance of friends and mentors, because sometimes having someone who sincerely believes in your potential is what you really need to start believing in yourself. The act of bending steel is not only an incredible feat of strength, it's a metaphor for every struggle in life and the inexhaustible drive in each of us to accomplish something, anything, worthwhile. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) Sometimes when films are very personal, emotions can become guarded or sentimentality can take over. In The Genius of Marian, neither is the case. This intimate documentary is an emotionally raw and incredibly sensitive look at Pam White, the mother of co-director Banker White, as she succumbs to the early stages of Alzheimer's. The film is also a meditation on family and memory, as it also celebrates the work of Pam's mother, the painter Marian Steele, who also suffered from Alzheimer's later in life. The sheer love in the work is palpable, which is why even the little moments of joy and sadness can become so heartbreaking. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) It's interesting that two years in a row I have found myself disappointed by a film about drug use in America. Last year's Off Label was well presented but lacked depth. I didn't actively hate it, but it was a missed opportunity to discuss the issues surround off label uses for prescription medication. Oxyana, on the other hand, I actively hate. No matter how you look at it, either as an ethnography of a town apparently destroyed by addiction or as a look into the people who addiction has affected, it is a failure. It lacks context, content, and any sort of relevance. It's a shoddy attempt at pulling on heartstrings, and that's a damn shame. It could have been good, possibly even great, but it's not. It's terrible, and should be avoided every bit as much as the addictions it depicts. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!) It's all a simple matter of form and content: you tell your story in the form that best serves the story. Full stop. Like so many other movies out there, Mr. Jones shows that found footage can ruin a good thing when it's done wrong. As a conceit and as a tool, found footage just makes no sense for this film, which starts out as a fake documentary, and then just has a bunch of raw footage, and then stops being a found footage movie at the end. It's such a sloppy handling of rich material, and I think I was so aggravated with it because the potential for something really good is in there but it's totally botched. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) REVIEWS: LISTED IN REVERSE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER Whitewash and Big Bad Wolves - 75 (Good) and 60 (Decent) Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? - 69 (Decent) Northwest - 82 (Great)  The Trials of Muhammad Ali - 78 (Good) The Project - 73 (Good) Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic - 71 (Good) Powerless - 77 (Good) The Moment - 34 (Bad) Stand Clear of the Closing Doors - 53 (Average) Fresh Meat - 69 (Decent) The Rocket - 84 (Great)  Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia - 80 (Great)  Oxyana - 29 (Terrible) The Machine - 45 (Sub-par) Tricked - 62 (Decent) Raze - 35 (Bad) Kill Team - 75 (Good) Let the Fire Burn - 61 (Decent) Cutie and the Boxer - 83 (Great)  Lil Bub & Friendz - 72 (Good) Run and Jump - 75 (Good) Mistaken for Strangers - 78 (Good) Mr. Jones - 32 (Bad) Bending Steel - 84 (Great)  Dark Touch - 77 (Good) Adult World - 43 (Sub-par) The Genius of Marian - 84 (Great)  Möbius - 44 (Sub-par) What Richard Did - 69 (Decent) Byzantium - 70 (Good) Odayaka - 66 (Decent) Reaching for the Moon - 78 (Good) V/H/S/2 (Repost) - 84 (Great - Alec) / 76 (Good - Hubert) Prince Avalanche (Repost) - 59 (Average - Hubert) Before Midnight (Repost) - 93 (Spectacular - Alec) / 92 (Spectacular - Hubert)   INTERVIEWS Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Eduardo Sánchez, and Adam Wingard - V/H/S/2 Chris "Wonder" Schoeck, Dave Carroll, and Ryan Scafuro - Bending Steel, Part 1 Chris "Wonder" Schoeck, Dave Carroll, and Ryan Scafuro - Bending Steel, Part 2 Danny Mulheron - Fresh Meat Kate Elliot - Fresh Meat Richard Raaphorst - Frankenstein's Army Juliette Eisner, Andy Capper, Mike Bridavsky, and Lil Bub - Lil Bub & Friendz
Tribeca Awards and Recap photo
Heck yeah.
And so another film festival comes to a close. This year's Tribeca wasn't the most spectacular fest of all time, but it had a solid lineup and we saw some good movies. As per usual, Hubert rocked things hardcore, and Alec pic...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

May 06 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]215323:40053:0[/embed] Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?Director: Arvin ChenRelease Date: TBDCountry: Taiwan  Even though homosexuality is acceptable in Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, the film's protagonist, Weichung, is in the closet. A seemingly-once-proud gay man who repressed his urges, got married, and had a child. This was going fine, but one day an attractive young man shows up at Weichung's glasses store looking for a new pair. It's love (lust?) at first sight, and suddenly everything in his life has gone topsy-turvy. He has a decision to make: follow his true self or continue his repression in order to keep his family together. Were Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? an American film, it would be a tragic drama. No matter where the story goes, someone will get hurt, and in a culture as repressed as America's (imagine if it was set in the Deep South), this decision could have terrible ramifications for the protagonist and/or his family. But it isn't an American, and I am so thankful for that. What could have been a harsh and depressing drama is instead a whimsical comedy. This is a film where a man takes out his umbrella and literally floats off into the distance, never to be seen again. It's funny, but even though I laughed more than anyone else in the theater (a not infrequent occurrence at festival screenings), it's hardly a-laugh-a-minute riot. That's too bad. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but not all of the jokes hit their mark, which dragged it down. Also, at 101 minutes, it's much too long, and there is plenty of fat that could have been trimmed. But don't let that turn you away from Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?. There is a lot to like here, and it's interesting both on its own terms and as a look into another, much more accepting culture. I hope that someday soon, there will be American films that can treat this sort of material lightly (even if conceptually it is actually rather sad). For the moment, though, we have to turn to Taiwan. Go figure.
Will You Still Love Me? photo
A whimsical story of Taiwanese homosexuality
Here's an interesting fact: Taiwan is among the most gay-friendly countries in Asia. Gay marriage is not explicitly legal (a bill attempting to fix that stalled nearly a decade ago), but even as far as 2006, a poll of the pop...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Northwest

May 06 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215495:40051:0[/embed] Northwest (Nordvest)Director: Michael NoerRating: TBDCountry: DenmarkRelease Date: TBD Caspar (Gustav Dyekjær Giese) lives with his family in a rough part of Copenhagen. He's a petty thief who makes a living by breaking into houses, taking whatever he can, and selling the goods to a local heavy. The jobs aren't particularly sophisticated, and they don't pay all that well either, but it's a living. Caspar's life takes a turn for the better -- before making a big dip downward -- when he gets involved with another crime boss and then gets his brother Andy (Oscar Dyekjær Giese) involved. It starts with driving hookers to their johns, but it becomes much more complicated as the film goes on. The sense of reality in Northwest is thanks in large part to director Micharl Noer. Northwest is only his second narrative feature, but he has a background in documentary filmmaking, which serves this grim and gritty story well. At least half of the found footage films made today should take note: dump the idea of being found footage and simply go handheld like this. It makes the movie visceral without any of the difficult contrivances of found footage films. An additional sense of truth comes from the two first-time actors playing Caspar and Andy, who are real-life brothers and naturals on screen. The rest of the cast also feel authentic; there's character to their faces and mannerisms, and the acting is inhabited rather than affected. There'a one point in Northwest where Caspar and Andy share a quiet moment together. It's late at night after a job and they've only just begun their downward spiral, but things are going great for now. Brief triumph in lives that have known little of it. Andy finishes off a Red Bull and tosses the can away. Noer's camera holds steady and observes as the can rolls down a sloping bit of concrete into the shadows. The pull of gravity and the nature of momentum is unstoppable, the darkness seems infinite. These two brothers are about to make a similar journey. The Red Bull can gets off easy by comparison.
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Youth is rotting in the state of Denmark
In some ways Northwest could be written off as another movie about how crime doesn't pay. There's an escalation of criminal activity, there's the brief taste of a modest sweet life, there's the tragic inflation of egos, and t...

Tribeca Capsule Review: The Project

May 05 // Hubert Vigilla
The ProjectDirectors: Shawn Efran and Adam CiralskyRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD When Prince is on screen, he keeps talking about the situation in Somalia in terms of action movies, even comparing the country to Mad Max. Coming from the creator of the world's largest private military company, it's an unintentional but revealing description. In an action movie, the plot of a PMPF movie would go like this: a ragtag group of a few hundred Somali volunteers would transform from underfed and untrained civilians into the best and brightest fighting force in East Africa. Movies aren't real life, though. In The Project, the PMPF plot is more like this: a ragtag group of a few hundred Somali volunteers is so malnourished that their legs break while running; they've never worn footwear with laces and require boot training before firing rusted guns (the PMPF was disallowed new weaponry because of an arms embargo); and they may be secret spies for the pirates. When the PMPF embarks on their first missions, there's a genuine fear of the group's catastrophic failure. The main guide for The Project is Roger Carstens, a former Special Forces lieutenant colonel embedded with the PMPF to film and observe how they conduct operations. Former UN coordinator Matthew Bryden is included in the film as a counterpoint, citing lack of oversight. While the whole story of the PMPF is incomplete (e.g., no exploration of reported beatings and killings of trainees) and unfolding (e.g., needs more about the multiple factors causing a dip in Somali piracy as well as the origins and rise of al-Shabaab), I still think that directors Shawn Efran and Adam Ciralsky have created a worthwhile conversation starter, and I hope they continue to follow the story.
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The Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) vs. Somali pirates
At the end of The Project we're shown events that happened in March 2013 involving the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF). There's  a harrowing stand-off with Somali pirates just off the coast. Since the events and de...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic

May 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215549:40049:0[/embed] Richard Pryor: Omit the LogicDirector: Marina ZenovichRating: TBDRelease Date: May 31, 2013 (Showtime) The issue with trying to capture Richard Pryor in just 90 minutes comes from the different arcs of his life. Just looking at his comedy career, his shift from Bill Cosby-clone to Richard Pryor-proper could have been the focus of a full documentary, and the same goes for his rise in prominence in the 1970s and early 1980s, his battles with NBC censors on The Richard Pryor Show, and his eventual decline as a relevant social comedian as the 80s wore on. Add to this his drug addition, his self-immolation, his many wives, his awful struggle with MS, and his very traumatic family life, and there's material enough for several 90-minute documentaries. What Zenovich offers is a view from the surface rather than getting to the essence of the man, though there are some great glimpses there of Pryor at his best, with interviews from Dave Chappelle, Whoopi Goldberg, Mel Brooks, Ishmael Reed, Robin Williams, and others that serve as both celebration and punctuation. But there are also surprising omissions with interview subjects, probably due to access and clearances. When I was talking to another film journalist/blogger about Omit the Logic, he brought up the lack of an Eddie Murphy interview, which would have made sense given the comedy lineage between Pryor and Murphy and their work on Harlem Nights. I was a little disappointed that Gene Wilder wasn't in the film, though it would probably hurt him too much to talk about a friend so tragic.
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An overview of one of the most important comedians of the 20th century
Richard Pryor is one of the best stand-up comedians of all time. Whether it's an album like That N***er's Crazy or the Live on the Sunset Strip comedy special, there's such incredible comic timing in his work, and also just p...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Powerless

May 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215547:40048:0[/embed] Powerless (Katiyabaaz)Directors: Fahad Mustafa and Deepti KakkarRating: TBDCountry: IndiaRelease Date: TBD Electricity is essential for any developing country, especially one with a fair amount of industry. Such is the case with Kanpur. Rolling blackouts are a reality, and some of these are long-term, lasting half the day or longer. The only way that business owners can keep small textile factories and tanneries going is to use gas-powered generators, or they can get one of the electricity thieves to help them. The one thief that directors Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar center on is named Loha Singh. With great daring, he climbs poles and rigs wires into the dangerous cat's cradle around him. It's this risk that pays Loha's bills and gives households enough energy to keep a light on at night. And yet while people like Loha are developing-world Robin Hoods, they're also part of the problem. Stolen power places extreme burden on the grid leading to blackouts. And since none of this stolen power is paid for, it's difficult to get the necessary revenue to make improvements that would reduce blackouts in the future. It's also dangerous, not just for Loha -- who shares stories of electrocution -- but for the citizens; several generator explosions and fires are caught on camera, and I couldn't help but wince as someone tried to put out an electrical fire with a bucket of water. Powerless shifts focus back and forth from the struggles of the people to the difficulties of higher-ups, like Ritu Maheshwari, one of the heads of Kesco, Kanpur's power company. She's sincere in trying to help, it seems, but she's caught in the unfortunate trap of being viewed as an enemy simply because of her position; the thief gets to be the romantic hero, the person in any perceived seat of power is the villain despite good intentions. The issues of Powerless are complex and go unanswered, which is probably because there are no easy fixes given the scale of the problem. There are such impassioned interests involved on the various sides of the issue, and none are willing to budge too much. Amid this complicated power struggle, Mustafa and Kakkar inject a few visually interesting segments that play out as if they're from a narrative film rather than a documentary. There's a panorama of struggle here that's fascinating to watch even if it's troubling at the end.
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The struggle for electricity in Kanpur, India viewed from different angles
At the beginning of the documentary Powerless, we're told that 1.5 billion people in the world live without electricity, and that 400 million of those people live in India. The numbers are pretty staggering, especially w...

Tribeca Capsule Review: The Moment

May 04 // Hubert Vigilla
The MomentDirector: Jane WeinstockRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD The whole set-up for The Moment has promise. Lee (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a war photographer suffering from PTSD-induced memory loss who is trying to figure out whether or not she murdered her boyfriend John (Martin Henderson). She's checked into some sort of mental health clinic after a breakdown at a gallery show, and one of her fellow patients named Peter looks just like her ex-boyfriend but without the facial hair. In Lee's mind, little catches of memory blend with wish fulfillment until the complicated facts of that night are revealed. A lot of the reason The Moment never works has to do with a lack of focus in the writing and direction. In more capable hands than Jane Weinstock's (e.g., Hitchcock, Nolan), the film could have really left a lasting impression. As it is now, there's no tautness or suspense in The Moment, which robs all of the weirdness and mystery of any sense of weirdness and mystery. Lee never makes anything out of Peter's similarities to John for some reason, and so the tension of this double-casting is never explored. This missed opportunity is especially egregious when Lee's daughter (Alia Shawkat) comes to visit. Even when probing Lee's memory for answers, it feels like a simple therapy session rather than something with big stakes. But apart from a lack of suspense, there's also a misguided attempt to expand the scope of the story and make it seem exotic and international. There are flashbacks to a violent incident in Mogadishu that caused Lee to experience mental health problems. Unfortunately the film's version of Mogadishu looks sparsely populated, sterile, and obviously fake -- less like Somalia and more like a crummy area outside of El Cajon. There's also another international locale created in the film that looks just like fake-Mogadishu even though the sets and costumes are different.
The Moment Capsule Review photo
Memory, murder, and a lack of focus
If there was a marketing blurb for The Moment that could sell its strengths, it would probably say something like "Christopher Nolan's Memento meets Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up." That's really the best possible scenario ...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

May 04 // Hubert Vigilla
Stand Clear of the Closing DoorsDirector: Sam FleischnerRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Velez) is the 13-year-old autistic son of undocumented workers living in the Rockaways. He spends his days mumbling intelligibly in his own world and drawing dragons, which he puts up on the walls of his room that he shares with his sister Carla (Azul Zorrilla). When Carla doesn't get him after school one afternoon, Ricky runs off into the subway, where he stays for several days just riding back and forth on the A, C, and E line. On the subway, Ricky people watches; back home, his mom (Andrea Suarez Paz) and sister worry; meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy looms. There are some legitimately great performances in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, particularly Paz, who's so naturalistic and multi-layered it's astonishing. Through her side of the story there's a larger conversation about class in New York and the outsider status of illegal aliens, as well as the difficulties of being a low-income parent raising a child with special needs. Both Zorrilla and  Sanchez-Velez are good too, and these three core performances establish a realistic family dynamic, one that feels like it's existed before the film started. The issue for me while watching all of this unfold has everything to do with length and medium. There's a sort of thinness to the material in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, and while some of the texture and detail is interesting, it never seemed to cohere into a feature film. There's a really powerful short film in this, I think, or even a really fascinating novel given how the language could be played with, but it almost felt like the film was killing time on the subway. These moments of observation are dazzling for Ricky, whose mind enjoys the stimulation, but for me they didn't seem to buzz or hum. It's an odd thing: the performances had life for me, while those snippets of real-life people on the subway seemed lifeless.
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A question of length and medium while people watching on the A, C, E
Sometimes I watch a film and wind up thinking about two things: length and medium. In terms of length, I wonder if a feature film should be a short instead (and vice versa). In terms of medium, I wonder if the film's content ...

Tribeca Interview: Bending Steel, Part 2

May 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215530:40045:0[/embed] [Editor's note: When we left off in part one of the interview, we were discussing the nature of mentorship in the strongman community.] Yeah, the art [of the strongman] is not going to survive if it's just people grifting and looking for favors going back and forth. It's about passing on what you can offer. Dave Carroll: Exactly. Chris "Wonder" Schoeck: Without holding back. Without holding back. DC: And that was a huge thing in the relationship between The Mighty Atom and Slim "The Hammer Man." That's not exactly in the film, but being with Slim, we all know how powerful that relationship was and all these guys take that stuff very seriously. And there's an etiquette to dealing with the elders in the community, an there's a lot of respect. Ryan Scafuro: Respect. DC: Chris deeply respects all those guys and admires them. Part of it is lost on the audience, but Chris is such a fan of strongmen. He's wearing a Stanless Steel shirt, and later on you see Stanless Steel. [Editor's note: Stanless Steel is the name of an old-time strongman, though it's pronounced "stainless."] I mean, you know, he's like a fanboy of strongmen! You see all the little layers of it. That's a little subtlety of the movie. Slim's training room is incredible. RS: Yeah! DC: "The Dungeon"! Is it literally like a history museum? DC: Exactly! RS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. CWS: It's like going down beneath the Metropolitan Museum of Art or The Vatican! You discover all these catacombs with all this great stuff! RS: So when The Mighty Atom died, he left all of that stuff to Slim, and Slim actually had the old truck that The Mighty Atom used to travel in and sell his hair tonics at carnivals. DC: We didn't get it in the movie. RS: We do have a shot-- DC: They walk past it. And The Atom used to sell those tonics and stuff, like for your hair, and would sell it out of the back of that truck. So old school. RS: But in Slim's Dungeon there's so much history there. When we first got invited down there, and it was the first time Chris had met him too-- Err, officially met him, I guess. CWS: Officially, in his home. RS: We walked in there and you get a sense of history and of strength and amazement. And seeing all the metal hanging from the ceiling and the dates going back to the 70s and the 60s, and then the cases with all the photographs. And just visually, for me as a cinematographer, it was stunning. That's one of my favorite-looking scenes in the film because there's all of this wood, and it's a little bit of a gym and a little bit of a museum, but then there are these metallic items hanging from the ceiling. CWS: Relics. RS: Relics! DC: I always just thought about it as if, you know, you were breaking into the pyramids for the first time. [laughs] [Editor's note: And this point Chris "Wonder" Schoeck, Dave Carroll, and Ryan Scafuro all simultaneously geeked out for a few seconds about The Dungeon.] CWS: Yeah! I was thinking about that! That's how-- Like I'd just opened up Tutankhamun's tomb! RS: Yeah! Just walk in and like, "What!?" CWS: The splendor! DC: And Ryan, I don't know if you remember, but I said that the music we need for that scene, it's like you're in the pyramids or something. CWS: I was waiting to get bitten by the fly. [laughs] [laughs] DC: [laughs] Boom! RS: [laughs] We're all dead. CWS: We're all dead, that's it! Mwahahaha! RS: This is also a subtle thing too, and Slim might get mad at me, but he keeps his hammers in a false wall. I don't know if you noticed that. Yeah, I did! RS: He considers that a shrine. It's a really spiritual space for him because he used to train there. Like they said, he used to go there religiously and train, and I think that was his place where he felt at home, where he felt like he could do anything, where there was no judgment, and Chris has that same place in his storage cage. DC: It's really weird because in the last interview we just did, Chris called his downstairs storage space a temple. [Editor's note: To Chris] I've never heard you call it that. Chris, does it feel that way to you? CWS: It is. It is undoubtedly my temple. I enter that little arena and I am free of electronic devices and any sort of outside distraction, and there usually isn't anybody wandering around down there. So there's frequently no judgment. It's a private area, and it's a place where I truly feel comfortable. I can, you know, communicate with my items, sometimes silently, sometimes... audibly. [laughs] CWS: I can carry on these sort of relationships that I have with these various items that may have been bent years ago. And I try to put a date to them all, and I have memories. All of these things things just look like articles that have been bent, but they all carry with them some sort of meaning or specific dates. DC: Chris Rider would always say to us, "I used to lift weights. You pick up a weight, you put it down, you pick it up, you put it down. But when you bend a piece of steel, it's there -- you can see it." Yeah. DC: You know when that was. You remember the pain that you experienced putting into that. And that's why with Chris, by now his storage space is-- You see the movie poster, that is his storage space: it's almost engulfing him. RS: There's a lot of relationships in that storage space! [laughs] [laughs] DC: There's a lot! And, you can tell! I mean, Chris is pulling up dates, and I do not doubt that he remembers some of that agony and pain that went into it and what caused that with those articles. I mean, the most obvious one is that two-inch bar. Yeah. CWS: Yeah. What happens if-- Well, when you run out of space in that storage space? Where will you put all the articles? CWS: Well, I hope to buy a studio in LIC [Editor's note: Long Island City] not too far from that area around Queensboro Plaza. And that could be a place where I keep my apartment and go there and conduct my art form. RS: So the answer is he just moves. [laughs] CWS: Yeah! I tried to do it the easy way. I just told [the landlord] there's a another storage spot for rent, let me rent it downstairs. [laughs] CWS: Somebody tells me, "Oh, there's big money in scrap metal!" Well, look: there's not big money in scrap metal. What are they gonna give me? Fifty cents for a hundred pounds or something? DC: You'll be lucky just to get someone to move it for you! [laughs] CWS: Yeah! Yeah! [laughs] CWS: And I'm gonna get rid of all this history? What? For five, ten-- DC: He's very precious about the metal. CWS: I don't have any urge to get rid of it. I would rather get another space; buy or rent another space and be a little more circumspect about how I store it and archive it. DC: The answer is just expand. It's not to reduce-- CWS: Not to reduce but to expand. That's very succinctly put! [laughs] RS: Exactly. [laughs] Actually, I wanted to touch on the score. You'd mentioned how important the score was for Slim's Dungeon. Could you talk about how you got the score for Bending Steel? RS: Yeah. Fernando Martinez is a friend of mine, and he composed the score. We all sort of sat down, the three of us, but Dave worked really closely with Fernando to actually get the mood of each scene. DC: I mean, I love the score in the film, but it took a lot of trial and error to really get it. We went in with a lot of ideas, and I think a lot of it is on the screen because a lot of it just worked. Some scenes you need to conjure up some kind of ancient strongman-ism, like the texture or feel of this stuff is more exotic or has an old feel; and some of it's newer, and some of it's more folksy because it's the guys together. And we'd play around with Chris's isolation in the beginning, and there are ebows and things that kind of give it an austere feel. It was very, you know-- CWS: An eboooow? DC: Yeah, it's a-- CWS: A whaaaat?! [laughs] [laughs] DC: It's... [laughs] CWS: A whaaaat?! [laughs] RS: We really wanted to have a score that was subtle but powerful, which are two contrasting things, and a great composer is able to do that, and I think Fernando really nailed it. I always wondered this: how does a strongman come up with all the different kinds of feats he does? What is the process of creating a feat? CWS: Since it's primarily passed down, there are going to be basic feats that everybody's trained in, at least in my perspective: steel bars, spikes, scrawling of steel, horseshoes, tearing poker cards. And I believe that a lot of feats are renditions or variations of certain basic ones. DC: It's tributes. A lot of it's tributes to the past. CWS: Combinations, too. DC: There are also other guys who do a variety of different things, some of whom weren't in the film. But I mean, towards the end you have like Gary "The Brick Man" Brown. He's-- CWS: Sandwiching. DC: He's sandwiching bricks together and lifting them, and he's got the circus dumbbell. CWS: He's the closest to the guy with the leopard skin. DC: Leopard skin, barrel-chested strongman. There's so many variations of these guys and combination-feats. You know, Steve Weiner, the guy who picks up the boulder. I mean, that boulder is like 350 pounds or something like that. But he does combination feats where he'll literally have 250 pounds on one side, 250 pounds on the other side, and attach another 200 pounds to his head. RS: Yeah, via a fire hydrant. [laughs] DC: Via a fire hydrant! I mean lift like a giant cement boulder while levering a hammer. Doing all these things at once. The stuff that goes behind that, that's really what the film is about. Bending steel is just a simple term for what happens in the movie. It's really the transformative nature of taking something and turning it into something else. When people say weird things like, "Hey, great sports film," or something, you have to wonder whether they saw the film or not. [laughs] It's like, "Umm... welll..." DC: That's why we all appreciated what you wrote because there was a thoughtfulness to it that obviously understood what it was we were trying to portray. And I think people get it. The film's gotten a great response... once you get people in the door. Especially watching what happens to you, Chris, over the course of the movie. It's obvious it's not just a kind of sports film. It means so much to you, so obviously there's something else going on there beyond, "Oh, they're just lifting things. Or bending things." It's something more fundamental than that. DC: We would always talk with the strongmen -- and they would always have internal conversations about this -- the difficulty of standing in front of someone and making them understand what was happening. Just because you pull apart a horseshoe, people may say, "Ah, that's a great feat," but they have no idea what goes into that. And not just the physicality. It's like, "Oh, that guy's really strong." That's easy to say that and then walk away from it, but what we really wanted to get across was the emotional weight. CWS: Value. The actual value. DC: What's going into that act, what's going on behind the eyes. RS: And it's something that... That struggle is represented as steel in the film, but there's also that other level. That's struggle is something that we can all relate to in our lives. We all have a two-inch bar. DC: In anything. RS: In anything. DC: Making the movie for us was our own kind of struggle. So we related deeply to what Chris was saying. RS: And the act of overcoming something like that, these perceived limitations, right? Because they are perceived. Yeah. RS: Once you overcome that, you can find greater things. And the thing that holds you back from overcoming that is your own mind. And I think that people can take that away from the film and apply it to other aspects of their life, whether they be an artist or whatever. You can apply it basically to anything. Even relationships. CWS: It's a journey. Precisely how the journey started is something which is still becoming clearer to me, but I can tell you why I stay on that journey. It's a journey where I find a lot of self-illumination and fulfillment, because I train myself to turn off governors or self-imposed limitations, and that frees me up to open my eyes to a whole panorama of things which normally I would try to avoid -- that I would go to great lengths to avoid. RS: And I think, you know, that idea of it being a journey is something that Dave and I really wanted to portray. That the quest for fulfillment is something that is continuous. You get that fulfillment from accomplishing something. Chris gets it every time he accomplishes a bend. Dave and I got it from accomplishing this film. But it's ongoing. That feeling is somewhat fleeting, and then you move on to the next thing. For people to continually grow, you need to have that thing that you're striving for. That little extra thing. I remember, Chris, you describing what bending steel is like: holding your breath and then trying to hold it for 20 seconds more. CWS: Right. Always trying to push on. CWS: That's exactly it. You guys are going to Toronto with this next, right? RS: Yup, Hot Docs. DC: Hot Docs. How are you guys feeling about that? RS: Oh, we're excited! DC: Yeah, excited. You know, Tribeca, I guess, is a little more spread out. Hot Docs, I've never been. Neither have I. DC: Are you going? No, I wish I could. DC: We're excited to be going to Toronto. I mean, the doc community is really amazing. I find the filmmakers to be very approachable for the most part, and open and really collaborative. RS: Super supportive. DC: Super supportive. Maybe not everyone, but almost everyone we've run into. RS: Yeah. DC: Really positive. RS: And I think that's really across the board with a lot of people in the community. DC: Because our film is so tiny, and we're first-time filmmakers and we didn't really have any champions of the film. No one was going to put their name on the film. So it meant a lot to us to have people in the community, anyone, just say, "Hey, you guys are doing something good and worthwhile." RS: Yeah. DC: To show us the same type of encouragement that Chris was looking for. So on that level, thank god this film was inspirational on certain levels. RS: It helped a lot. DC: If this was a depressing film, it would be really-- [Editor's note: If I remember right, both Dave Carroll and Ryan Scafuro looked at Chris "Wonder" Schoeck, and they all busted up laughing.] [laughs] CWS: Whew! DC: It would be really hard to work the motivation up, because you need that driving force to get you to get this thing done and out the door. RS: For Hot Docs, we're super-excited to have our international premiere there. We're so grateful to Charlotte [Cook] for inviting us. We're really excited to continue these relationships. We've met with fellow filmmakers and programmers throughout the festival circuit, and we're especially looking forward to being up there because we've heard amazing things about the festival. DC: In a weird way, very similar to Chris -- and maybe it's because we've worked on a film about an introverted guy coming out of his shell and actually wanting relationships with other people -- but I feel like the best part of this process is meeting people. [laughs] [laughs] DC: And actually developing various forms of relationships that we just didn't have before. And I'm not talking about business relationships. I'm talking about-- Friendships-- RS: Mutual respect. DC: Actual relationships. Like with people you'll see again, and it's a cool thing. And like the party... That's why the screening for me was very emotional too, because all these people helped us out tremendously, so it was pretty important to have them all together in one room. And one last question. What can you say about the Coney Island strongman show coming up, Chris? CWS: I'm involved in it. It should be... The size of the event is something I don't think Coney Island has seen in a long-- Ever. At least in terms of a sizable strongman event. We're going to have several notable people in our community perform, including people from Johannesburg. And you're going to see a lot of variety. Everyone has they own area of expertise, and they will have an opportunity to perform that in front of a large group of people. It should be really, really exciting. And it's something which everybody is looking forward to. I'm sure they're honing up their bars for it, or whatever -- you know, to have special bars which they want to polish up. They want to come across really good and take pride in performing, and they're all very happy that so many people want to come down and see these feats. And now, hopefully, the film will show that these aren't just feats, and people will have the background to see the real value in the art form. It isn't just something where you go, get a ticket, and see something neat done. You sort of are part of the experience that led up to this person being able to do this seemingly impossible or improbable thing. RS: And it's Adam RealMan and Chris Rider who are producing the show together. Awesome. RS: It's gotten bigger every year. DC: May 19th. Third annual. RS: You weren't at the premiere, and so I also didn't know this, but Mike Greenstein, the son of The Mighty Atom, is going to be pulling a car at 92 years old. DC: 92! CWS: 93. He'll be 93 years old. [laughs] Holy crap! RS: Yeah. That's going to be incredible. CWS: It is.
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Chris "Wonder" Schoeck, Dave Carroll, and Ryan Scafuro on the act and meaning of bending steel
Here's the second part of our interview with the team behind Bending Steel: director Dave Carroll, director of photography/producer Ryan Scafuro, and Chris "Wonder" Schoeck. The documentary was my favorite movie at this year'...

Tribeca Interview: Bending Steel, Part 1

May 02 // Hubert Vigilla
At the party Slim ["The Hammer Man" Farman] passed by me and I remember saying-- Dave Carroll: Well you can't miss him! [laughs] [laughs] I remember saying to him, "I love the trick you do with the sledgehammer." And he was like, "No, it's not a trick. It earned me a lot of money -- not on the stage, but in the quarry." And I'm just thinking, "That's awesome." Ryan Scafuro: Yeah. Chris "Wonder" Schoeck: Slim tells it like it is. He doesn't need a teleprompter or anything. DC: Yeah, saying "trick" around these guys-- [laughs] DC: But I'm sure he didn't take offense to it. CWS: Right, because he knows that as a layman you use terms interchangeably. Actually, what is the proper terminology for it? CWS: A feat. DC: It is a feat of strength. It's not a trick. CWS: Yeah, it's not a trick. DC: A trick is like there's a catch to it. RS: Trickery. I see. Yeah. But it's all real. RS: Yeah. DC: It's all legitimate. Could you talk about the world premiere screening itself and how that went? I mean, to be in front of a crowd and everything. RS: You know, this is our first film, and this is our first festival, and that was the first time we were showing it officially in front of people. And the reaction was overwhelming for us. To have a theater full of people react so strongly to what we put out there and to Chris's life was really an amazing feeling. DC: I mean, it's important for us since this is our hometown, so this is like our homecoming bringing the film. And Chris is a New York native. RS: To do it at Tribeca! DC: To do it at Tribeca, you can't ask for a better better place to do it at. And we had a room filled with very important people to us: family, friends, contributors; people that not only were emotionally there but just super supportive. Couldn't ask for anything better. And at the after party. In terms of all the feats that were planned, how did you organize that night? RS: I called up Chris Rider and Adam RealMan and I was like, "We're doing an after party, you guys are producing it." CWS: They arranged it. DC: [laughs] I mean it doesn't take much with these guys to get pumped up and go out there and do stuff. And that night was really all about them. Dave, could you describe what it was like to run into Chris for the very first time? DC: Sure. So I was doing laundry in the basement of the building I live in. I had my dog, Gizmo, with me, a little French bulldog. And we were just minding our own business, but then we heard some clanging and grunting off in the distance. And of course Gizmo, you know, her ears go up and she just goes scampering around the corner and chases after the sound. And Chris is there. I didn't see anything going on. I had seen Chris in the building before and he was always a little strange. Like, I'd say hi to him and he wouldn't really make eye contact with me, or if he did it would be really quick. So I didn't think much of it until I went in after Gizmo because she was in Chris's storage space, and in this storage space, in a pile on the floor, are like nails, hammers that are bent in half, chains hanging from the ceiling. And everyone else has-- Well, I have an air conditioner and a bike in mine, right? [laughs] DC: So there's a dynamic to not only his personality but to what he was doing that was a little startling, and I just kind of picked my dog up and said, "Excuse me, sorry to interrupt," and just backed out of there. And I thought about it for like a week or so; I'd tell people about it. I went to a Christmas party a couple nights later and I was like, "I ran into this really weird guy..." RS: Yeah, that's actually when we first talked about it. Dave and I are both directors of photography in New York, and we've worked together for a very long time. So it was at a Christmas party we were both at... We had been looking for a subject to kind of make a short about just for our reels, and he just came up to me and said, "I've found this guy in the building that has all this bent crap in his storage unit. I think this might be something worth exploring." DC: And I was thinking-- Strongman wasn't even in my head. I just saw something. I saw anger, I saw anxiety, stress, tension. What is going into this? It was obsessive; it looked obsessive to me. It was just piles, it wasn't just-- You know, I never experienced that. So when I ran into Chris again, two weeks later in the basement, I just had to ask him. What was that moment like for you Chris? CWS: I was doing what I was going to do anyway, and I suppose I was a little bit flattered that somebody found value in this particular activity unsolicited. And it was a little shock of self-worth or self-esteem. DC: I think when I asked Chris what he was doing, his reply was, "Training to be an old-time strongman." I immediately thought of a guy in a leopard skin like on Coney Island. I'm not very familiar with that, or wasn't familiar with that at the time, but I knew there was some kind of rich history there. And he said, "Let me show you this DVD," and I was like, "Wha--? Okay..." He kind of invited himself into my apartment to show me this DVD of Slim "The Hammer Man," like this old interview made by Dennis Rogers. And I'm watching it and I'm kind of getting a little interested. We're looking for a short, and all of a sudden this strongman comes out of nowhere? No problem! We'll follow you! And of course it got more interesting as we got to know Chris. You start peeling these layers. Some of this stuff wasn't coming out for months and months and months. And it just kept coming. It was so engaging, and the conflict between Chris trying to do something and better his life and get out in front of people, even though he really didn't want to at first. And then it becomes a necessity. It's really interesting. RS: Yeah, we really didn't have an idea at the time about the depth of what we had with Chris as a subject. And once we did realize, it was a little bit of a revelation and we realized that we had much more than just a short film. Chris Rider also plays a big part in the movie as well. Chris, could you talk about how you first contacted Chris Rider, and then how Chris Rider became involved in the movie? CWS: Well, once I knew that this was going to be a passion, or certainly a hobby of mine, I searched the internet and randomly found a gentleman -- January 23rd, 2010 -- he's now deceased. His name is Greg Matonick. DC: He's in the film. CWS: He's in the film, and has a good spot in the film. But he worked with me for a day. He runs a welding business and he explained that he knew such a person who would provide good mentorship not too far into Pennsylvania. So about a month later, I reached out to this person, who happened to be Chris Rider, who lives somewhere right outside of Lancaster and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and we trained in old-time strongman feats for five hours once every five weeks. I would perfect the things we worked on, and then when we got together again we would have a little redundancy and introduce a new one. And then he all of a sudden sprung it on me that I have to do this in public. [laughs] [laughs] CWS: Hmm. And then, things changed! [laughs] I was like, "Public? [laughs] Public? What, isn't this public?" [laughs] [laughs] CWS: "This is public! You're a person, no?" [laughs] [laughs] And Chis Rider being on film is so great as a contrast to Chris, and a great personality as well. Can you talk about interacting with Rider? RS: Chris Rider is a seasoned performer. He knows what's he's doing, and he's good at drawing a crowd and commanding a crowd. And the dynamic between [Rider and Schoeck] was such a huge contrast, that it really was interesting to us. DC: You just had to put the camera on them. You could see Chris Schoeck's hesitation with an audience, and you can see the tension on his face. And Chris Rider just goes out there and just starts performing. It's a dynamic shift between the two of them. But also, in the moments where it's just them without a crowd, Chris Rider is an incredibly motivating, inspirational guy. He's astute with what he does, he's very good at it, and Chris Schoeck learned a lot from Rider and played a very important part [in his develeopment]. Everyone can use someone to take them under their wing, and kind of show them a craft, and he really got Chris started on this whole process. What everyone didn't realize was that it was going to wind up changing [Chris Schoeck's] life RS: And let's be honest, the physical contrast between the two of them. Yeah. DC: Just the physicality alone! RS: It's pretty remarkable! DC: It's almost hysterical when they're next to each other. RS: Yeah, as a cinematographer it was great for me just to be able to play with that, and there was always the, the, the-- DC: Looming, big strongman in the room. RS: Yeah. Is mentorship always common for strongmen? RS: Yes. So that's something that we actually have a direct link to the past through that mentorship process. Chris Schoeck is a student of Chris Rider; Chris Rider was a student of Dennis Rogers; Dennis was a student of Slim "The Hammer Man"; and Slim was a student of The Mighty Atom, who is one of the most famous strongmen back in the vaudevillian days. There's that direct link to that genuine old-time strongman that's actually represented. Could you talk about the shooting process, like how long were you guys hanging out? And maybe what it was like early on compared to later in the shoot? DC: When I met Chris it was like December 2010. We started shooting in January of 2011, just as like a short. We live in the same building, so I would spend a lot of time with him, just off camera as well. Just hanging out, we'd be talking. It was always very intimate stuff, just about life in general and personal things, and a lot of that stuff then gets translated the next when we were shooting. So one of those scenes where Chris is down in the basement and he's got the Stanless Steel shirt on towards the very beginning, he's talking very intimately about how this [storage unit] is home, and this is like a safe place for him, and he doesn't need relationships. [Editor's note: Stanless Steel is the name of an old-time strongman, though it's pronounced "stainless."] The way he's looking, he has that vulnerability there that he's expressing that was so moving to see, and that came from these close conversations where we would just be posing questions to Chris and he would be thinking about it introspectively, and that would come out in the film. Chris can speak to this one. You're the subject of a film like this. I guess for the most part you're pressed. Or not pressed, but at least you start thinking about things in a different perspective. Chris always had that capacity, though. Because you watch other character-driven films and that character does not change. They're just that person, the camera's just on them, you don't see any difference. But I think the process being there, because Chris was not used to having people around him, and just having us there and being a part of his life, I'm pretty sure that... CWS: Yeah, it's funny because when the process began I was sort of maybe just a little naïve or I was just taken that someone was very much interested in what I was doing. And then as it got more involved and they became a bigger part of my life, they -- I don't want to say forced -- but they encouraged that you would be introspective or that you would reflect on certain aspects of your personality. By doing that, you got to know yourself, and trust built up, and the questions would get deeper and deeper, and they would peel things away, and you would get to know yourself more; and you would find out things that you'd like about yourself, things that are worthwhile, things that you never knew were really there. And so just as the film started out as a little tiny thing and evolved into something much bigger, my life mirrors that development. RS: And structurally speaking, the timeframe that we had was a little bit of a blessing and a curse. You know, often with cinema verite films you're not really sure where the film is going to end and you could be filming for years and years and years. With our film, we knew that we had a definitive or at least some sort of ending with Chris performing for the first time publicly. So that was kind of nice, because we knew that would pretty much be the end of filming, but at the same time we had to incorporate all of the pieces of a story within that timeframe, which was a little bit of a challenge for us and it forced us to spend a lot of time with Chris during those months. How long were you guys shooting usually? DC: Oh man, we were shooting... RS: Maybe like four times a week? DC: Yeah, four days a week. I mean it was pretty intense. RS: And the traveling. DC: I mean, every now and then we would have a down week where we'd only do one day or two days or something. I would also be going down and doing things myself, like something was happening and you had to go down and get it. Eventually Chris Rider gets Chris Schoeck a camera and he starts filming on his own, and we had to sift through that, and that's where that Moby-Dick scene came out of at night during the storm, and it was just like... It was like gold, you know? Those were great moments too because it felt like Chris was able to open up completely even though you were on you own. DC: He wouldn't say that. [Editor's note: Speaking to Chris.] You wouldn't be exactly that open with us. He still wouldn't. I found that there was another layer of openness after [getting the camera]. RS: And that wasn't the intent of that camera at all, you know? That camera was sent to Chris in order to help him sort of perform. And then-- DC: Yeah, to help perform! And it became a little diary of sorts. It was an interesting element. Chris, could you talk about the camera being used both as a way to critique and improve your performance and to be a sort of diary? CWS: I was wondering how this thing was going to improve my performance! [laughs] [laughs] CWS: Because the camera was an inanimate thing it took pictures of me, but I'm supposed to review my performance and I wasn't able to review what the camera was doing! [laughs] CWS: So finally one day I was wondering, "How is this going to help me? I still don't see what this thing is doing!" But for some strange reason I had never had any inhibitions about the camera. The camera is an inanimate thing. It has no life to to it. DC: It's not going to ask you a question. CWS: It's not going to ask me a question! DC: And it's not going to look at you weird if you say something weird. It's just there! CWS: It's just there! [laughs] [laughs] CWS: I mean, it could be 300 million people, hopefully, who see what that camera captured. But I wasn't thinking past that. [laughs] I just, I mean, I just pushed the button. [laughs] CWS: What I was more worried about: sometimes I got mixed up. I was pushing the button-- DC: Double push? CWS: I'd be double pushing it, just like I do on Facebook. "Like," but then it would say I've unliked. I'm like, "No, 'Like'!" [laughs] [laughs] CWS: On, off, on, off, on, off. [laughs] One of my favorite moments of the film is when you get the name "Wonder." Could you talk about what it was like that day? This is for all of you. CWS: I remember the day that I officially assumed that name was May 22nd, 2011. And I was outside Harrisburg, and I remember that day with the strength feats we were working on, and I received a call from Dennis Rogers saying this should be the definitive name that you use -- this is the name, and he gave the understanding of why I should use that name, one on one. My feelings? I felt it was very important, because generally when I get on stage, I maybe don't look like your typical strongman. I don't even think I do. I lift all these weights in the gym and there these guys with huge muscles-- I dunno. [On stage], do they expect me to pull a ukulele out of my case, or do they expect me to pull a steel bar out of my case? Something like that. But so there's that element of wonder. When I do something in front of a crowd, I usually get a certain reaction from the men and certain reactions from the women, but the overall reaction is, "I really wonder how someone of that stature can generate enough force to be able to do these things." And of course I pass [the items] out to people in the audience that would like to try. But I think that's a very good name, and I expect some time it will be abbreviated by the crowd from Chris "Wonder" Schoeck to just plain Chris "Wonder." RS: Chris, talk a little bit about how it felt to have Dennis give you that name, and what being named by Dennis felt like. DC: I personally love the moment when Chris is standing there in Dennis's apartment. Yeah. DC: And he says-- RS: "Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Chris--!" DC: And he's about to say "Schoeck" right away, but then stops himself and says "Wonder." For me, that was really... I mean, really, the name came down to him, but it was the first time it was coming out of his mouth. And that was really, that was-- Even I was like-- I was doing audio and directing and I was just like [Editor's note: pregnant pause]. "Is he going to remember?! Oh, he's not going to remember!" And then it was like, "He's not going to-- WAIT! There it is!" [laughs] [laughs] CWS: Let's start over again! DC: You had to! It was great, the way you did it was perfect! RS: Yeah! Though talk a little about what that meant to have Dennis name you. CWS: What was nice about it, it was so personalized. It was a person who I really didn't know that took a lot of time to think about this. Because not only did he throw the name out at me -- and just one basic reason: size, name, size, name, makes sense. But he spent time explaining how this could be an asset to me, and why I should use it. It showed me that another person really, without remuneration, was taking time out of his day, was thinking about me, and cared for me as a person and really wanted me to be successful as a strongman. And, what's also unique about it, what helped make Dennis unique as a strongman was his size. Yes. CWS: So he was in some ways helping to raise me up. And most people in the professional world, they may be nice to all the other professionals in their field, but they're always holding onto something to give them the edge. And this was somebody that actually was releasing some of his edge. RS: Selflessly, yeah. CWS: Selflessly, yeah -- didn't expect anything for it. So that was very special, and it's also transformative in that if I'm ever in that position for somebody else for whatever it is, I have some sense that it will be right for me to make myself just a little bit vulnerable and help raise somebody else up who's lost or maybe a little bit directionless. Even if it could jeopardize my perch. And it's back to the sense of mentorship. Back to the tradition. CWS: It's genuine mentorship. DC: Sincere. RS: Yeah. CWS: Not obligation. Exactly. CWS: It's genuine mentorship RS: Because how else is this art form going to survive otherwise? Continued in part two...
Bending Steel Interview 1 photo
Chris "Wonder" Schoeck, Dave Carroll, and Ryan Scafuro on the art of the old-time strongman
The documentary Bending Steel was my favorite movie at the Tribeca Film Festival. It follows Chris "Wonder" Schoeck in his quest to become an old-time strongman, but the act of bending steel winds up meaning so much more -- i...

Tribeca Review: Fresh Meat

May 02 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215496:40041:0[/embed] Fresh MeatDirector: Danny MulheronRating: TBDCountry: New ZealandRelease Date: TBD Fresh Meat sets its tone and agenda pretty early on: there's nudity and a lesbian school girl shower scene within the first minute or two of the film. No time wasted. Given, it's playful and relatively chaste, but lesbian shower scenes are lesbian shower scenes no matter how you want to classify them. This is how we're introduced to Rina, played by first-time actress Hanna Tevita. She's a sweet young Maori woman returning home to the suburbs to visit her family after being away at school. In a genteel movie without the lesbian shower scene in the first two minutes, the opening to Fresh Meat could have been the set-up for a lighthearted coming-of-age and coming-out comedy. That plot gets thrown off course, however, because Rina's parents have something of their own they want to reveal. It turns out that while Rina was away at school, both mum (Nicola Kawana) and dad (Temuera Morrison) have decided to dabble in cannibalism. It's around then that their home gets invaded by a group of bumbling criminals on the run. A similar act of agenda setting occurs when we're introduced to Gigi (Elliott), the film's other female lead. Gigi first appears coming out of a car and ready to raise hell. She's like a cross between Tura Satana and Milla Jovovich: hot pants, knee-high stockings, a Bettie Page haircut, and a shotgun. She's the exploitation film equivalent of the femme fatale; some adolescent boy fantasy of sex and violence all rolled into one. Or in this case, Gigi's also a school girl fantasy of sex and violence -- she looks a lot like one of Rina's drawings of a sultry superheroine. Mulheron had mentioned in our interview that the tone of Fresh Meat was like a Road Runner cartoon, which is a good way of looking at it given the film's goofy violence and comedy. It's not a hardcore horror movie in any way, and scares are light even though there's a decent amount of blood. I think there are two other cartoon examples that also feed into what Fresh Meat is all about in terms of its thrills and titillation -- Tex Avery cartoons and Heavy Metal. In the case of both, there's a nascent wolf-whistling, va-va-vooming, and marveling that happens with any hint of sexiness, which is exactly what my 15-year-old mind would have felt had I seen this movie all those years ago. Fresh Meat also dabbles in a little social satire about the BS of suburban attitudes and values. One of Rina's friends who just wants to get into her pants co-opts the Maori culture in order to seem more worldly and more sincere even though he's just a bland and horny kid. Rina's mom is a celebrity chef, which has led her to the ultimate kind of ho-hum social and literary cachet. Rina's dad is a resentful failed writer who sinks all of his dreams (and his family's lives, really) into the mad beliefs in his history book about a spiritual leader/cult leader. None of the characters are really aiming high in life even though they think they are, and that lack of self-reflection is part of the trap of the suburbs. These are all empty people living in a neighborhood devoid of personality. While that touch of social satire is going on far in the background, in the foreground Gigi is pouring milk all over her body in the kitchen in slow-mo while Rina makes gaga eyes at her. In my head, my inner 15-year-old triumphantly high-fives my friends's inner 15-yeas-olds. (I have no idea why these other teenage selves are in my head.) While Fresh Meat is a lot of fun, it feels like the movie is holding back. I was left hungry for more at the end. It's like eating Chinese food (or possibly a Chinese person). Just having more offensiveness, more extreme gore, more violence could have pushed the film even further. Not only would that have appealed to the slapstick gorehound in me, it probably would have made this an even better send-up of the suburbs and the values of the upper middle class. And while Elliott and Tevita are good at playing their cartoon roles (shotgun seductress and fawning young femme), Morrison's comic timing seems a little off, like he's a shirt that's overstarched. Part of Fresh Meat's sense of withholding may come from budget and time constraints, but I think more of it comes from the attempt to get an R16 rating, which allows for a better box office. It's understandable, though to the detriment of the movie's high points. Fresh Meat is tasteless to a point, and there's a desire in older-me to see that arbitrary limit of taste eradicated and transgressed; it's as strong as the desire in the 15-year-old-me to see boobs and intestines (though not at the same time). I guess even then, it's not all bad since the film is still an enjoyable romp with lesbianism, girls with guns, and cartoon mayhem. The moments of restraint are probably fitting, actually. Fresh Meat is a cannibal splatter film with some manners -- this is the suburbs, after all.
Fresh Meat Review photo
Never invade the suburban homes of cannibals who happen to be Maori
Before interviewing director Danny Mulheron and actress Kate Elliott about Fresh Meat, I was talking to another film blogger/journalist about the movie. She  brought up the idea of brew and views with her friends: double...

Tribeca Interview: Danny Mulheron (Fresh Meat)

May 01 // Hubert Vigilla
Have you been to New York before? Yes, I have. We try and get here as much as we can, even if it's only for a week or two. My wife and I love it, and we're staying in a little B & B place down in NoLita. I love it here. I feel so relaxed. New Zealand's lovely, but it's isolated. It's the last bus stop in the world, you know? [laughs] It tries to pretend it's first world, and it is, but again, it's 4 million people on big island. That's like half the population here [in New York]. Yeah, yeah, so it's isolated, and coming here is like filling yourself up with fresh water, you know? Beautiful. I had fun at the movie, by the way. Good! Glad you like it. Fresh Meat reminded me of the things I would have rented in middle school and high school and watched with my friends. I think kids would like it, you know; 15-year-old boys would love this sort of movie. And that's who it's kind of made for and aimed at, I suppose. In a way it's a sort of movie that a younger director, hopefully, would sort of make. You know, when you're in your twenties you make these sort of mad splatter movies and things. And that's great. Because it's certainly not-- It's a cartoon really. Yeah. Brad [Abraham, who wrote the original script that became Fresh Meat] was at the screening the other night. Did you talk to him about what his script was like compared to what the film was like? Yeah, of course. I still haven't seen the [original version] of the script. He's going to maybe send me one, I don't know. But I got onto the project quite late in the piece. By then, Briar Grace Smith was the writer, who's a Maori and a really well-respected writer in New Zealand who really let her hair down with this. She's a big horror fan, and she'd written very worthy, good pieces -- The Strength of Water and others, plays and films -- and she said, "Oh, bugger it. I'm gonna do this." And she may be slaughtered for it, but it's fine. And it needed that sensibility, because the whole Maori thing, which is why it works set in New Zealand, it was important to have their input. So I never saw Brad's thing, but from my impressions, I know how hard it must be for a writer here: you write a great idea, you're probably asked to do rewrites, you really clean it, and then someone buys it and changes it completely. So [Brad and original co-writer Joseph O'Brien] probably wrote a really hardcore Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- which I love -- movie, with full-on gore and cannibalism and home invasion. Real full-on stuff. And they turn up and they get a Road Runner cartoon. [laughs] [laughs] And I apologize to them for that, but in a way, my job was to bring that to it, actually. They didn't want it to go too R-rated. I don't know what you call it here. Like NC-17, the really hard adult restriction. And it may be too much for people here. I mean, NC-17... we have R-ratings, and even R20's sometimes in New Zealand. [Editor's note: In New Zealand, their rating system includes G for general audiences, PG for parental guidance recommended, M for material suitable for but not restricted to mature audiences 16 and up, and then R-ratings for restricted viewing. The R-ratings include an age after the letter to designate an age at which someone is able to view a film. R16, for example, can only be watched by people 16 and older; R18 for people 18 and older.] So we couldn't go too far up that ladder, and the only way I could do that was by creating a comic grindhouse parody, if you like. Not that it's a spoof exactly, but it does use various tropes with shameless abandon. Yeah. Like, okay, lesbian shower scene. Yeah, check that off. [laughs] [laughs] Like a list. "Finished that one. Onto this..." Not really that motivated in deep, character-driven way, but it was just like, "Why the hell not?" This is what they want to watch, let's give it to them without much nonsense. And that was kind of the spirit of the movie. Maybe it suffers from that, but it's up for the audience to decide. But also, the comedy was something that brought me to it. I've done mostly comedy stuff, and possibly to the sacrifice of the dread that a lot of horror movies thrive on. And "dread" is probably a good word. Just the sense of something around the corner? It's not just suspense, because suspense is easy, really. You know, "What's behind the door?" Yeah, that's true. But a sense of real dread that a film like The Exorcist had, or the sense of Let the Right One In. There's a real sense of emptiness and dread -- wonderful things. What was that one, Cabin in the Woods? That was out recently? Yeah, the big meta one. Yeah they use some tropes and things, it was very interesting. There were some scenes in that that [made me go], "Oh shit! That's really terrific!" My favorite one, with a New Zealand actress, actually, was kissing the wolf's head. Oh yeah! Just making out with it. Yeah! And I thought, "Wow! That I haven't seen." And if I haven't seen it, well why in the hell not? I really enjoyed that. Anyway, I've gone off point of the question. I can't even remember what it was now. Uhh... Something about dread or-- It's not really a horror movie in that sense. It's more like a Road Runner cartoon with real blood. [laughs] [laughs] And a real hand! [laughs] Yeah! Yeah, yeah, that was a real hand. We couldn't get a prosthetic good enough so we got a real one. They're cheaper. [laughs] Yeah, they're cheaper. I remember you mentioning at the Q & A that it's also a kind of goofy take on the suburbs. Oh yeah! Could you talk about your feelings on the suburbs? Well, I reckon there are a lot of people in New Zealand whose idea of paradise is like the gated community. And they're dead cemeteries, aren't they? Yeah, all of them look like they're the same sort of house. They're a nightmare! Do you know anything about architecture programs? 3D CAD? Not really. CAD is an architectural program that makes geometric shapes, and these things are like someone's gone mad with a few columns in a CAD program and just dropped triangles, blocks, vast garages. Vast! And again, I know -- deep bullshit, wank, filmmaker -- very important for me to find the right-sized garage, because it was a big mouth. [laugh] Just-- A great big mouth that opens up in the front of all these awful houses and eats up the people in it. And it wasn't a haunted house in the sense that it wasn't a creepy house. It was much creepier than that. Just bland. There's nothing about it that has any real personality, which is really horrifying to me. Because then it's just this thing that swallows people up. Yeah. And at night, no one is on the streets. Which is always the creepiest thing about suburbs. I mean, I was a suburban kid, and the emptiness growing up in the suburbs just freaked me out. I mean when I was a kid -- in the 1960s, I know that makes me sound terribly old, but -- the street was where it happened. We were playing cricket, or whatever -- you played baseball here -- but we were all playing on the street. The only time we heard mum and dad was when they yelled out, "DINNER!" [laughs] Otherwise, we were outside. And maybe it's technology that's changed, so we're all interior now, and connecting to the world through bloody these things [points at a TV on the wall] and computers. But to me, those deathly suburbs, which we aspire to, oddly enough, are what's eating us up. And that's the kind of the metaphor for the cannibalism. Consumption is a way of eating ourselves because we think we want what we want, but when we get it, it just eats you up. It eats you up, and you're swallowed by it. And then there's no personality. Nothing. Nothing. You know J.G. Ballard? Oh yeah. I love his writing. Yeah! Well he's got that: the horror of nothingness. Not that this is really a horror movie, it's a comedy, but it was really important that we didn't go for the great haunted front of the house. Everything is bland land, you know? And really, by pursuing these aspirations, they've lost their identity. Especially with the Temuera Morrison character. He's just losing all sense of sanity just to pursue this bizarre belief in his book, with basically Michael Jackson on the cover. [laughs] That's right! Michael Jackson! Well, no. The [guy on the book] is not quite that horrific. [laughs] [laughs] No, no, that's, I don't want to get that... [Editor's note: audio unclear.] But it does look like Michael Jackson! I hadn't thought of that, that's great! It wasn't an intentional-- No! But that's terrific! I love that! [a beat] Yeah, it is Michael Jackson now. [laughs] But yeah, [Temuera Morrison's character], he's a failed writer. He wants to be successful and his wife is far more successful than him. He's impotent -- he doesn't sleep in the same room as his wife. So he's finding his mojo through this mad religion that he's maybe created. And good for him, in a way. It's always hard with horror movies. Whose side are you really on in a movie, you know? Yeah. And part of you is on the so-called goodies side, but really, for me, I'm really on the baddies side. That's why it's quite nice to have Gigi, Kate Elliott's part, who's really sort of a baddie, if you like. But she's also a winner in this film, and you go with her. It's like Cape Fear, you know? Which is a terrific movie. Oh yeah! The Cady character. Max Cady. Yeah, Max Cady! And Scorsese said it: we were rooting for Max, really. [laughs] [laughs] He's nuts, he's doing horrible things, but I want to see what he does next! Yeah! And even though Nick Nolte and Gregory Peck were terrific, it's really Max Cady's movie. And Mitchum, along with De Niro... Mitchum is one of my favorite actors of all time. And Mitchum is just so insane in Cape Fear. But man, you see so many quotes from that movie in so many others. Even Silence of the Lambs. You know the last shot of Silence of the Lambs. Where he's just walking off after the phone call. Walking in that white suit, and he's just padding off in that soft, silent way, off to eat that chief psychiatrist, or whatever. That just reminded me totally of Mitchum -- the white suit and Max Cady. And the way Mitchum moved! Just his weird, just... AH! There's just something beautiful about that guy, and I recommend him to all movie actors. Always because... Because, well. You know I just read a Roger Ebert book because he died recently. He interviewed Mitchum, and it's a terrific interview, and Mitchum really doesn't seem to care, but he obviously does. Because Night of the Hunter is one of my favorite movies as well. And he's incredible in that too! Aww! He's Shakespearean! Like pure menace! He is terrific! And Kirk Douglas-- There's a great story in that book about Kirk Douglas and him in Out of the Past. Have you ever seen Out of the Past? No, I haven't seen that one. '47 -- terrific movie! A real noir movie. I'm a big fan-- When I say b-grade movies. This word, "noir." They used to just call a lot of them b-movies, you know, which I prefer, because noir has kind of got a cachet value that's a little tasteful for me. [laughs] [laughs] I'd hate to be restricted by any notions of what good taste is meant to be, because that's a [kind of] death. But Mitchum says a brilliant thing. Someone said that when he and Kirk Douglas were working together they had very different styles of acting. Kirk was wanting to underact Mitchum. As a co-star said to him, "No, you can't do it. You can't do it. Mitchum's not even doing any acting. He's just there, man! You can't underact him." And Mitchum heard about it and said, "Yeah. No, Kirk's an actor. I'm just a hired hand." [laughs] That's badass. That is great. [laughs] I love that! And I love Kirk Douglas too, so I'm not criticizing him, but I thought, "Man, that's what you want." Just like-- And he's beautiful at it. And I'm not saying he's not inhabiting characters and all this stuff, but let's not mess with Mitchum. Yeah. And he didn't give a shit who his directors were or anything, and maybe that's a hip kind of mask that he had, but he's worth studying, that guy, just to see how... We're off point, in a way, but he did an exercise which I use with the kids. He said, "What am I? I'm a guy. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm in this business falling off horses and getting beaten up. That tree that I'm beside is a better actor than me. It's a tree, man." It's just what it is. It's not even trying. "So what I'm gonna do is I'm just gonna lean on that tree. I'm gonna lean on that tree -- really lean on it." So he's leaning on that tree, "And hopefully that tree will make me feel real." And he realized something, and he said, "I'd like to have a real gun." The reality of that gun made him real. Because it's not just some flimsy prop. And that's what film is good about. Even though you're surrounded by madness. It's much harder now with all the digital shit, which I'm not a fan of. I like it enhancing a story, and you have to use it for budget reasons sometimes or whatever, but I love it live. You get real reactions. Guns going off, even if they're not on shot, I want them going off because there's nothing that would give the actor the same experience. It's an actual reaction. It's an actual reaction! And it's a miracle if you capture a real thing happening on camera. And as soon my heart goes "Whoa," I go, "Yes, got it! Move on!" And I'm fast, which is why I'm a hack. And these are compliments. [laughs] It's like what you're about. We've gotta get this done! We've gotta get it done. Five weeks. Get it done! And I think a lot about movies, and possibly too much, but at the same time, I'd hate to say I had a style in case I had to stick to that. People are looking for some kind of consistency from me, and consistency to me is the refuge of idiots. [laughs] [laughs] It's all about what you have to do on each project. It's what the project tells me. The script tells you what the style is, not me. You've got to think, "What does this feel to me? What am I dreaming here? What are going to bring out the elements that I enjoy?" And I want to enjoy filmmaking. I really enjoy the process, and meeting people like you, and coming to this festival has been terrific. Absolutely wonderful experience. And I love actors and crews, and even... I have a love/hate relationship with the producers, and Dave [Gibson] and I have known each other for 35 years, you know, and he's tolerated me for-fucking-ever! [laughs] And I must drive him mad, because I say things he doesn't agree with, but I really love the fact he's been able to help me make this movie, you know? There's so much left I'd want to ask, but since I have time for just one more, I have to go back in time: what's it like being in a hippo suit? [laughs] The [Heidi the Hippo] suit smelt of sweat and rancid butter! It was hot and it stunk and it was terrific fun. It was a 15 week shoot in a mad warehouse doing the most obscene things you could possibly do. Shooting machine guns. Man, it was a blast! That's awesome. And you know, one of the strangest experiences I ever had was in Japan, actually. Me and Peter [Jackson] went to a film festival -- some sort of fantasy film and monster thing in Japan -- and I'm sharing a dressing room with two of my idols: Donald Pleasence-- Holy crap! And Chow Yun-fat! Youwerewith-- Holy shit! And I was in this room with them, and I WAS IN A FUCKING HIPPO SUIT! [laughs] And Donald Pleasence is talking to me and says, "It must be hot in there." And I said, "MMM MBRRPH MMM UMMM BRRRMPH UMM MMHM." [laughs] [laughs] And then there I am on stage standing next to Donald Pleasence and Chow Yun-fat in a fucking hippo suit with a machine gun. But I upstaged them! [laughs] And then this Japanese kid from the front row-- Are you Japanese? Filipino. Filipino. The Philippines! That's where I want to make movies! Seriously? Interesting! I fucking like The Philippines! Both of my actors [Leand Macadaan and Ralph Hilaga] are Filipino. And I'm into a Filipino movie called Harana. I haven't seen Harana. You know what Harana is, yeah? No, actually. Serenading. In the old days they used to serenade people, before phones. Boys used to play guitars outside girls's houses. It's an old Philippine tradition that's been destroyed by the fucking internet and everything else! [laughs] But Filipinos... You know The Raid, the Indonesian movie The Raid? The Raid is so much fun! The Filipinos should be doing this kind of movie. 80 million people, something like this? Yeah, it's a massive country. Incredible heritage, incredible talent, and wonderful, wonderful people. Natural actors, man. And I also think it's an unexplored territory. It's not just Asia, it's not just the South Pacific, it's its own weird thing. [a beat] But anyway... This Japanese guy gets up an says, "Miss Heidi? Would you mind shooting me?" [laughs] And this was on stage! And everyone was like [starts applauding]. So I say, "MMMBRUMPH MM HMMMM UMMMBGH." So I had a fake machine gun, get that out. I took my head off, you know, with great difficulty, and went, "BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!" And this Japanese guy goes, "AHHHH! OHHH! AHHH! OWW! AHHHHH! GRRRRAHHH!" [laughs] He falls back in his chair, and then everyone goes like this [applauds]! So amid all of that, someone getting killed by Heidi the Hippo! [laughs]
Danny Mulheron Interview photo
Fresh Meat's director on the suburbs, consumption, Robert Mitchum, and Meet the Feebles
Director Danny Mulheron has a really huge personality, and talking to him last week I could sense a lot of that in the movie Fresh Meat. Both he and actress Kate Elliott were in town for the Tribeca Film Festival, and the fes...

Tribeca Interview: Kate Elliott (Fresh Meat)

May 01 // Hubert Vigilla
How did you get the script for Fresh Meat? I met one of the casting guys at a cafe and they couldn't find the right girl to play Gigi. They were originally looking for someone that was younger than me, but he said, "Actually, you'd be a better fit for it." So I read it, and I read it as a straight horror initially. I knew that Tem [Editor's note: Temuera Morrison] had signed on, and that was a big thing. And they also said, "You'll get full armory training and fight training," and I was like, "Yup! Cool." So I went in and did a little bit with Tem and they were like, "Cool." At the Q & A the other night you said you were also doing boxing at the time. Was it for a role or just fitness? That was just for me. I'd been boxing for fitness, and I was good at it, and I liked it, and I loved doing it. So the film came along at the right time. How much did that feed into all the action you had to do in the movie? Oh, heaps! It helped amazingly! I wanted her to be like a boxer in terms of the fluidity. I wanted her movement to not have hard edges. I wanted the way she handles things -- the way she walks, the way she goes up stairs and stuff -- to be almost like a dancer, and yet in the same sense like a boxer. You know? Like duck and weave. Yeah, there was a badass grace to Gigi. Yeah. Was that always something you saw in the character? Yeah, yeah! That's what I wanted her to be. I wanted her to hold herself as much as possible, which is mostly a front because she's such an unhappy girl at the time. But I wanted her to be-- And it also comes from that "Clint Eastwood in hot pants" thing. There's a stillness to him, you know, and then from that comes a presence and feeling of authority. You were saying that you originally read Fresh Meat as a straightforward horror. How did you feel about the film turning into a comedy? I definitely made it more difficult, but I think it's a great idea. If it helps put bums in seats, then it helps. I liked it a lot. Was there a lot of improv on set? No. We followed the script, pretty much. But we did a lot of rehearsal stuff with improv to figure the characters out. That was a good time. Could you talk about working with Temuera Morrison and Hanna Tevita? Tem was amazing. He was one of the reasons I took the film in the first place, and he's so knowledgeable, especially about the fight things, and I knew that most of my fight sequences would be with him. And so I just tried to learn as much as I possibly could off him. It was a good time. And Hanna had never worked before -- it was her first film. I guess I tried to be like what Tem was like to her, in terms of teaching her how to behave on set and stuff like that; telling her to stop windging when we were being hung upside down. [laughs] You gotta be tough as an actress in New Zealand, you know? You just got to roll with it. You had mentioned some difficulties about being an actress in New Zealand. What's the industry like there for performers? Well, I mean I've been incredibly lucky. All of the good roles, or most of the good roles... 90 percent of the good roles I get, I know when I'm going to get a role, I'm well known and well liked. But we just can't make as many films. If I was to do everything I got offered, I might work six months a year. Oh really? Mmm. So we have to go overseas. We usually go to Melbourne or Sidney, and some of us go to LA. Plus you've got to make your own work, which makes you sort of resourceful, so I write as well, and I make projects with my friends and friends in the industry. Just trying to keep as busy as possible. Like making shorts or...? Yeah, making shorts and writing webisodials, and stuff like that, you know? Acting in my friend's stuff, keeping the community alive. What was the entire atmosphere on set like for Fresh Meat? It was really fun. Jovial. It was a good time with lots of pranks. Stuff like that. Any pranks in particular that stand out? Mmmm... Leand [Macadaan], the guy who played Ritchie, he was hilarious just as a person. So mostly they were on him. Like hiding his clothes when he was in those skivvies? Yeah, stuff like that. That and putting stuff in his coffee, you know. Just messing with him. [laughs] What was the most difficult part of shooting for you? Probably the physicality of it. It was the most fun, but it was also the most difficult. Like all of the harness work. Hanging upside down for hours and hours and hours. Like literally hours? Yeah. I mean, they would take us down and put us back up again, but it took all day to shoot that stuff. Two days, actually. And that was the only time I used a stunt double. Just for some of that, because it's too hard on your body, so you have to swap out. You just can't hang upside down by your hips for 12 hours. [laughs] That would be kind of torturous. [laughs] It was torturous regardless, but with me and the stuntie working together we managed to do it. Do you have a favorite scene in the movie? You mean once it's cut together or to shoot it? Uh... Because it's quite different. Actually both. To shoot it, it was definitely the fight scene with the cop. We had choreographed it amazingly, and we were so into it there were definitely jabs and punches that weren't supposed to be there that he just took. [laughs] [laughs] And it was really visceral and just really fun. It's the reason I wanted to do the film in the first place. And then once it's cut together...? I don't know. There are lots of bits I like in it. Oh, but firing the shotgun was fun as well. Had you ever fired a gun before? No, I'd never fired a gun before. Really? Well, I know that must be weird in America. [laughs] [laughs] Actually, I haven't fired one. Oh, you haven't? [laughs] And it's a shotgun too! You don't go to a little handgun, you go straight to a shotgun! That's like going to college before finishing primary school. Yeah! So the first time I did it, it was terrifying, but after that I was like, "Fuck yeah! This is amazing!" I just wanted to do it more, you know? But then cut together... Yeah, the fight scenes are great, and the milk stuff is hilarious because I don't do that ever. [laughs] But every time I watch it I'm just like, "What. The. Fuck. Seriously? This is ridiculous." How many gallons of milk were used? [laughs] Well! It was coconut milk. Wow... That actually sounds pleasant almost. It was okay. [laughs] They warmed the set up for me, so it wasn't freezing cold. But it was hilarious to shoot, because I normally make wordy dramas, and now I'm standing here pouring milk over myself, going, "This is what my career's become!" [laughs] [laughs] You got to have those laughs, you know? You can't take yourself too seriously. There ya go. And also if there's just local work six months out of the year, it's always good to be working. Oh yeah, it's great to be working, yeah. I mean, you can work more if you go overseas. But yeah, I'm always happy for a job. Is there any crossover between wordy, character-driven stuff and doing a hardcore genre picture? Crossover in terms of style or acting? Exactly. Well, yeah, I approached it like I approach a wordy drama: trying to find the truth in the scene and trying to play it as straight as possible. I noticed you also do voiceover work. Could you talk about that? Yeah, lots of voiceover work. Lots of baddies and Power Rangers and monsters and stuff like that. That's fun -- that's really fun. And easy [in one respect] since there's no hair and makeup. Just go in your pajamas. [laughs] What's the process like? I've always wondered about voice acting. Well, it depends on what the show is, but most of the time I'm syncing stuff that's already been shot or animated, especially for Power Rangers Samurai and stuff like that. So it's already shot/animated, and there's a monster or actress that's talking, and so I have to mimic their voice patterns and make my own character out of the voice. I mean, it's hard. It ends up feeling kind of like a sport, like, "Right! [claps hands] Let's get it this time." It's like a dance, because the way people talk is very unique to the person. For example, mimicking how I'm talking right now, the rhythm of the voice is like a song. That reminds me -- there was an interview with you online where you mentioned acting as sort of like being a chameleon. Yeah. Do you find that happening a lot in role after role? Yeah, but I just find that in life. [laughs] [laughs] Yeah, I adapt to the people I'm around. It makes me a good actress, it makes me a terrible human being. [laughs] [laughs] But I take on a lot of a character, which makes it difficult for family members to be around me depending. Is that sort of like a method acting thing? It must be, but it really just comes organically for me. I don't have any other choice. So I mean, yeah, it is method, but it didn't come from me studying it. It just came because I started shooting at 14 and that's the only way I knew how to get the performance I required and I don't know how to do anything else. You started at 14 and have worked in both TV and film. Do you have a preference for one or the other? I just have a preference for awesome characters. If it's a play, if it's a web series. Shooting features? Yes, it's romantic and it's lovely and it's wonderful and I'd like to do more of them, but I'd rather work with interesting people and interesting characters than do some big-budget American film where I play some bland, stupid girl running around, you know? Yeah, like being "Running Girl #4" or something. No, no, no. I can't do it! [laughs] Or, you know, like those kind of vapid, stupid girls. Like the Shia LaBeouf love interest or something. Yes! Exactly! That's what I was trying to think of! Like in Transformers. I just... I couldn't... Yeah... Not doing that. [a beat] Apart from the money! [laughs] I'm not gonna say no! Well, I dunno. Now I'm going back on myself. I remember there being a lot of jokes about pizza at the screening. Do you have a preference for New York style thin crust or Chicago deep dish? I have not had a pizza here yet, but I'm going to make the person showing me around out here take me out to pizza. We're going to do that. I mean, I flipped pizzas in LA when I first arrived there and didn't have a job. Just at a restaurant and doing the dough? Yeah, everything: front of house, dough. We did everything. A place called Lucifer's Pizza in Hollywood. I worked there for a while. It was a good time. Do you still make a mean pizza? Yeah, I reckon, I totally make a mean pizza, but I have yet to have New York pizza, and I'm sure they do it better than I do. Look for a place with a coal over -- that's ideal. Well, we used to bring in water from New York. I need to do some sort of science experiment because I want to find out how much of a difference that makes. The water from here is better than the water in LA. The dough tastes different. So we used to bring in water from New York since it's just better. Full stop. [laughs]
Kate Elliott Interview photo
Fresh Meat's femme fatale on action, acting, Clint Eastwood in hot pants, and pizza
Fresh Meat is a manic horror-comedy from New Zealand about a group of screw-up criminals that take a suburban family hostage. The family just happens to be a bunch of cannibals. The leader of the criminals is a badass named G...

Tribeca Review: The Rocket

Apr 29 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215177:40019:0[/embed] The RocketDirector: Kim MordauntRating: TBDCountry: Australia (though the film's language is Lao)Release Date: TBD There are so many odd coincidences about Beasts and The Rocket even though they're distinct films with their own identities. Both Beasts and The Rocket are debut features for their directors (Benh Zeitlin and Kim Mordaunt, respectively); both films are filled with non-professional actors and feature children in lead roles (Quvenzhané Wallis and Disamoe); both are beautifully shot; and both dwell on themes of family, home, tradition, mortality, displacement, progress, and outsider status. Instead of primordial aurochs as reminders of death as in Beasts, The Rocket uses unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War referred to as "sleeping tigers." In a bit of magic reversal, the story eventually involves other kinds of rockets with a much different aim: to bring rain and renew the earth rather than to destroy the land. The Rocket follows a Laotian boy named Ahlo (Disamoe) who's convinced that he's cursed. He was a twin, and even though his brother was stillborn, he was supposed to have been killed at birth according to village customs. His grandmother Taitok (Bunsri Yindi) reminds him that he should be dead multiple times as the family situation goes into a decline. It all begins with a sudden tragedy and it continues to snowball from there. Ahlo is convinced that he needs to redeem himself even though he's not sure how. There's a kind of magic burbling beneath the facade of The Rocket, which may have a lot to do with the story being filtered through Ahlo's eyes. It gives everything Ahlo does a quest-like feel even if it's something as simple but meaningful as planting mango seeds. Rather than an intellectual take on a child's perception of the world, The Rocket is situated firmly in Ahlo's POV; those adult concerns about history, culture, and the uncertainty of the future are there, but they add texture to the adventure rather than supplant it, which means the film remains small and childlike at heart. Ahlo, his family, and their neighbors are displaced from their village so that a company can flood the valley and construct a dam to generate power. Ahlo is dwarfed by the current dam in the area. He's a speck on the screen with it, like something out of Ico, and it's a tremendous bit of visual wonderment in a film that's full of other sorts of wonders thanks to cinematographer Andrew Commis. This gigantic monument to progress blocks up another flooded valley that once contained another village and way of life. By swimming in the water of the dam, Ahlo finds scant remnants of another displaced people. It's just more culture disposed, more traditions forgotten, more people displaced -- they were flooded out by invading interests rather than blown up. The displaced villagers are promised housing and arable land once they leave their homes, but they're cheated out of both. The soil in their temporary resettlement area is dry and dead, and their livestock has barely any place to graze. The area itself is overcrowded with other suckered people. As for housing, they're given rusty siding and old sheets to make meager dwellings. Some shrines and traditions are carried forward in this shantytown, but in frustration Ahlo destroys them wherever he goes. Not only is he cursed with bad luck, but there's little reverence for his own culture, one that's doomed him but is also dying around him. All this dourness may serve as a background allegory for the state of Laos today. Ahlo's life gets changed by meeting some fellow displaced outcasts: a James Brown-obsessed man named Purple (Thep Phongam) and his niece Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam). Purple's got the James Brown moves, the posters, the suit, and the haircut, and he's also got a bit of a drinking problem. All he needs is a belt with "JB" on it and a bit more soul power. Admittedly, this is one of those details that could have seemed too quirky and insufferable in another film, but a character like Purple feels just right in The Rocket. The infusion of some Western culture makes sense thematically, historically, and in-story (i.e., outside cultures imposing on indigenous cultures), and there's also a real human sadness to the character that balances the idiosyncrasy. Purple is both a clown through Ahlo's eyes and a broken man who's experienced the horrors his own country's history for decades. There's a kinship between Ahlo and Purple since both seem cursed in their own ways. This addition to the film's ensemble adds both to the fairy tale quality and human depth. The Rocket is mostly devoid of supernatural and fantastical elements even though it feels like a fantasy of some kind. I think it's part of how the film captures the feeling of childlike awe in the world, where there's a little potential for magic and adventure even if it's just the result of luck. Highlighting this sense of intuition is just one way I can praise Mordaunt's direction on The Rocket. I can't really speak to the delivery of the Lao dialogue, but the tone and facial expressions feel right on an emotional level. The imagery feels right because it captures a kind of warmth and spirit pervading the film. The Laotion culture and its people never feel exoticized, which is sometimes a danger when less capable hands spin tales set in other cultures. But nothing feels forced or coaxed about The Rocket. To that, there's such an unassuming quality to The Rocket. It's not a film that's baiting for awards or attempting anything manipulative or overly sophisticated. That kind of cynicism would undermine the beauty of the story. The Rocket simply tells its charming tale, and it never tries too hard to be anything other than what it is, which happens to be a heart-warming and crowd-pleasing real-world fairy tale. This is fine storytelling with its feet rooted in childhood and its fingers in magic dust and gunpowder, and it's pulled off in such an undeniably winning way.
The Rocket Review photo
Home, family, tradition, 'splosions, and James Brown -- what's not to love?
The Rocket was one of the films at Tribeca that I'd planned to see much earlier in the festival but unfortunately couldn't get to until later. This Australian production set in Laos won both the audience award and the jury pr...

Tribeca Review: Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Apr 29 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215436:40013:0[/embed] Gore Vidal: The United States of AmnesiaDirector: Nicholas WrathallRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD Vidal had the uniquely privileged upbringing that joined young scholarship and erudition with early political consciousness. His grandfather was Senator Thomas Gore of Oklahoma, a blind man who was nonetheless highly educated and supposedly accepted no graft from the oil companies of his state. Vidal was so inspired by his grandfather's side of the family and what they represented that he took on the surname "Gore" as his first name, which does beat the heck out of Eugene. What becomes clear about Vidal is that he was ahead of his time in many respects. He advocated for gay rights back in the middle of the 20th century, and was even blacklisted from The New York Times's book reviews simply for his sexuality. Back in the '60s he talked about the dangers of income inequality, which have only gotten worse in the decades since. Vidal was also against the war in Vietnam before Johnson escalated the conflict. Vidal's close association with the Kennedy White House also meant greater disappointment in Kennedy as a president. He doesn't sugarcoat his feelings about JFK, and regards him as a substandard leader highly regarded for dying young who did plenty of objectionable things (e.g., Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs). But the political and social critic side of Vidal is just part of his personality. He was also a great entertainer. He and his partner Howard Austen hosted celebrity guests at their seaside, mountain-top Italian villa for years. All his life, he was a scenester with feet in Washington politics, Hollywood stardom, and New York publishing. He counted Paul Newman as one of his many close friends, and if I remember right, Newman supposedly threatened to beat the hell out of William F. Buckley for calling Vidal a queer on television. Director Nicholas Wrathall juggles material in his documentary, going between classic footage of Vidal on television and interviews with Vidal from a few years ago, with occasional Vidal aphorisms as a buffer between scenes. Sometimes this archival footage is more interesting than the recent footage. There's no shortage of delight in watching Vidal tussle with Buckley since the two were evenly matched intellectual heavies on opposite sides of the political spectrum. There's also joy in seeing the classic clip from The Dick Cavett Show in which Norman Mailer postures like a literary thug while Vidal and Cavett dismantle him. And yet Vidal's meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev a few years ago pales by comparison. Interesting sure, but not as captivating on film as I would've thought, probably because it's civil rather than acerbic. There's a surprising lifelong consistency to Vidal. His disdain for President worship and flag waving, for instance, endured. There's footage of Vidal watching Obama's speech on election night 2008, and he rolls his eyes wearily at the slightest pander to overt patriotism. This seems like the necessary stance of the gadfly: to avoid fawning, no matter who it is or where his or her politics align with your own. Sadly there's no footage of Vidal opining on Obama's successes and shortcomings in his first term, or on the early stages of the 2012 Presidential election. Vidal passed away from pneumonia on July 31, 2012. Part of the film focuses on who Vidal's heir will be, and for a while it seemed like Christopher Hitchens. At one time Vidal even anointed him as his official successor. Things soured between them over Hitchens's support of the war in Iraq. Vidal was staunchly against all wars, and even relates a moment in his youth that may have solidified his opposition to armed conflict. This rift in their friendship was never mended, and Wrathall captures their last meeting on camera. Hitchens passed away in December 2011. It's a bit hard to say who the successor to Vidal is since there's no one right now who currently occupies a similar position in the literary, celebrity, and political landscape. The country is without a Vidal figure in the same way it's without an H.L. Mencken figure, though it has its surrogate Mark Twains in writers like George Saunders and satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. More gadflies wouldn't be a bad thing. What's surprising is that while the left continues to have its critics, satirists, and wits, the right has experienced a severe deficit of them. The intellectual rigor of the right has been replaced by staunch anti-intellectualism. Gone is the possibility of someone like William F. Buckley representing conservative causes. He'd be shouted down for being a pointy-headed intellectual even though he voiced distrust in pointy-headed intellectuals. The Buckley brand of conservative commentary has since been replaced by dunderhead provocateurs peddling garbage infotainment, like Glenn Beck, Dinesh D'Souza, and Rush Limbaugh. If Buckley saw the state of The National Review today, he would probably weep zombie tears and then sock Jonah Goldberg in the mouth before replacing him with someone like Reihan Salam. (It's also sad state of affairs for conservatism when Victoria Jackson can be considered a worthwhile representative of an ideology, even a fringe one.) That's all really a tangent to the film, but something I found myself wondering for a while after the documentary. That might be the point. The subtitle of the documentary is The United States of Amnesia, and we're a country that so eagerly forgets its own history, so dutifully absolves itself of its own sins, and refuses to look back on events with any thoughtfulness. The United States of Amnesia reminded me of all that public discourse I wasn't alive to see but keep watching or reading online, and why I keep watching and reading and seeking out that stuff: it's worthwhile, it's still relevant, and we haven't learned a damned thing. In celebrating the life of Vidal, I think Wrathall really reminds Vidal's fans and latecomers that what The United States needs the most are its critics and historians. They're the mirrors and the healthy kicks in the pants that help the country wake up and do something, even if that something is as simple as the mere act of thinking.
Gore Vidal Review photo
A fine hurrah for a great American gadfly
It seems like we're well beyond the age of the public intellectual, or even the public author who may show society the way. Writers like Gore Vidal, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, Paul Goodman, and others used to appear on tel...

Tribeca Review: Oxyana

Apr 29 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]215321:40018:0[/embed] OxyanaDirector: Sean DunneRelease Date: TBDRating: NR  Now, it may not be fair for me to criticize a film for not talking about events that transpired after I had seen it, but I was using it as a more generally interesting example of what is a fundamental issue with Oxyana: it doesn't give any sort of context or real-world relevance. Oceana is a town in West Virginia that is plagued by drug addiction, and the number one drug of choice is Oxycodone IR, shortened to Oxy, hence "Oxyana." Right from the first time I saw a clearly printed label on a little orange bottle, I wondered why they used Oxycodone vs. OxyContin, which is particularly famous for its addictiveness. I didn't know what the difference was (or if Oxycodone IR was just a generic of OxyContin, which it isn't) It was never explained. It's possible (probable even) that before 2010 Oceana residents were addicted to OxyContin, but the film never addressed that either. The only two lessons learned from Oxyana are:  1) Drugs are bad, mmkay?2) Never go to West Virginia. Hardly profound additions to the conversation about the addiction problems plaguing this country. Here we get into the murky territory of directorial intent, and clearly director Sean Dunne wasn't interested in adding to the conversation, but then why make a documentary at all? To give the creative team the benefit of the doubt, let's say that they were trying to make something of an ethnography of a town riddled with addiction and not trying to say anything about the addiction itself. Here it's still woefully incomplete. Right from the opening of the film, it's clear that the team's priorities are in the wrong place. After a vague comment from an unnamed person about the death of a loved one, the film begins with music and shots of a town that wouldn't be out of place in Roger and Me, but they go on for far too long. Without the manipulative brilliance of "Wouldn't It Be Nice," there's not a lot of emotional weight. I don't know where this town is, what it is, or why I should care. Hell, I don't even know for sure that it's all the same town. When the film returns (multiple times) to this sort of imagery, at least I have a sense of location, but every single shot of sadness and disrepair is exactly the same as every other shot, and it's all meaningless. Without any juxtaposition or context, this may be exactly what all of West Virginia looks like. I don't know, and it's hard to care. It's hard to care about anything, really. I certainly didn't care about the people. You see, Oxyana truly is desolation porn, even beyond the unnecessarily lengthy sequences of depressing exteriors. Much of the rest of the film is made up of interviews with people who live in the area. It's not clear who any of these people are (with a couple of exceptions) or why anyone should feel for them beyond some sort of human connection, but they were apparently chosen to represent Oceana, and they succeed in making the whole place seem even worse. There are many, many things wrong with the way these interviews are handled, but the two most egregious problems can only be blamed on a creative team that really didn't care about what they were doing or who they were showing the film to. First up: lack of naming. When you watch a documentary, you expect to see names pop up on the bottom of the screen whenever a new person starts talking to give you at least some sort of context. Having that name gives something that just seeing a person doesn't quite give. Oxyana gives no names, and I don't think it's unrelated that the person I felt the most for in the film was the one person who started off his interview by introducing himself, but that leads me to number two: lack of subtitling. Most of the principle interviewees have thick accents, and some of them also have other impediments that make understanding them nigh impossible to someone who isn't already attune to that sort of thing. This was particularly bad in the case of one guy who spoke at about 400 words per minute and used "fuck" the way stereotypical valley girls use "like." I had no idea what he was trying to say at any given moment. Granted, I doubt it really mattered, because nothing anybody else said was particularly enlightening and I have trouble believing he would be the saving grace, but they really should have subtitled him. Hell, they should have subtitled everyone. I've seen Asian films where people spoke clearer English than this, and they still subtitled it, just in case. Then again, if the filmmakers had to subtitle it, they would have been forced to truly realize just how insignificant their contribution to the addiction discourse really is. I keep harping on this, but it's really the thing that's so offensive about Oxyana. There's no reason for it to exist. So many interesting questions are left open, and I found myself in the bowels of the internet on a forum for junkies hours after the screening ended, trying to learn something from the subject. It was a bizarre experience reading people talk about Oxycodone and heroin and other drugs and the feelings involved and everything. It was an experience I didn't get from Oxyana, even as I was actually watching people inject themselves there (itself a bizarre experience). It's also what was needed if the film was going to really neglect the non-junkie side of things. A couple of interviewees were not addicts (although the majority were), but they didn't have much worth saying. One was a dentist who had been tricked into prescribing things at first and had decided to stop, another was the mother of an addict (who looked irritatingly like the guy who was completely incomprehensible, confusing everything further thanks to the lack of names), and so on, but the only time a doctor with any actual experience with abusers (worked in a local ER) was interviewed, he said something short and was then ignored. Instead, we went back to the woman who was about to lose her baby because she was a junkie. At no point during her interview did she ever stop crying, and I just wanted her to go away. I didn't care about her plight, because it was her own goddamn fault. It was everyone's goddamn fault. If you don't feel bad for addicts, you're not going to feel bad for them after watching Oxyana. In fact, if you do feel bad for addicts, watching it will probably change your mind. The only person worth feeling anything for is the one dying from seven different brain tumors, and he makes a point that the Oxy isn't to make him high, just to get him through the day (his horrifically obese wife doesn't get the same pass). His story was sad, and I imagine the other ones were too, but so what? They should leave. At least one character spent a good portion of his life homeless and could have been homeless anywhere, another made tons of money selling drugs and should have just gotten up and gone, and so on and so forth. There's really no way to feel anything but disdain unless you just really like feeling bad for people. And I don't. I tried to care for a while, but the whole film is alienating and irritating. What could have been a fascinating exploration into either drug abuse or a grander vision of this town, but it's neither of those things. In fact, I don't really know what it is. It's nothing, really. Nothing worth watching and certainly nothing worth writing 1500 words about. But hopefully these words have impressed Oxyana's irrelevance on you. Maybe they've convinced you to seek out junkie forums or look up the Oxycontin patent controversy. That's all fascinating stuff, and going down that rabbit hole might be an interesting way to spend a rainy day. But not Oxyana. It's best we just pretend that it was a bad trip. Do you trip when you take Oxycodone? Shocker: Oxyana doesn't tell you. Maybe I'll go look that up. Hopefully I can go forget about this film. Hubert Vigilla: There's probably a good (albeit incomplete) 30-minute documentary in Oxyana about the lives of OxyContin/oxycodone abusers in Oceana, West Virginia, but at 80 minutes, the material in the film is spread too thin. This becomes evident in the musical interludes, which function less like moody transitions and more like moody filler. While the first musical interlude suggests a weather-beaten and rusted-over land of blue-collar dreams turned into junkie desperation, the second and third musical interludes feel like they're just killing time in the rental car. Part of the issue with Oxyana is its limited focus, which could have actually become the film's strength had more care been taken with these personal narratives. While the the lives of the users are fascinating, their stories are shuffled around haphazardly with no sense of conversation or connection with the other stories around them. On top of that, for some reason the filmmakers never provide captions with their subjects's names. (Just a first name would have sufficed.) This anonymity makes the addicts memorable only for traits rather than as actual people, which is a shame since a few of these addicts share some deeply affecting stories about how messed up their lives have become. At 80 minutes, there's hope that Oxyana would shift focus to the situation in the town before zeroing back in on the addicts again. There could have been a day in the life of the local emergency room, which has at least one death by OD a day and has a nursery filled with babies born as addicts. Yet apart from a few sentences that relate those statistics, the film never explores the issue in any meaningful way. The same goes with the point of view of law enforcement, coal workers (the biggest source of employment in the state), residents who aren't users, or the nearest methadone clinic. 40 -- Subpar
Oxyana Review photo
Desolation porn without relevance or release
A couple of weeks ago, the 1995 patent on the painkiller OxyContin expired. OxyContin is a particularly potent form of the opioid Oxycodone, and is intended to be released over time rather than immediately. When taken orally,...

Tribeca Review: The Machine

Apr 28 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215486:40012:0[/embed] The MachineDirector: Caradog JamesRating: TBDCountry: UKRelease Date: TBD We're told through introductory title cards that there's a new Cold War with China, one which has left the world a dystopian mess of Terminator and Blade Runner references. Somewhere in a secret research bunker, scientists are trying to develop artificial intelligence systems in order to out-think, out-strategize, and out-kill the Chinese. At the head of this research is Vincent (Toby Stephens), a man who's wrestling with the moral issues of cybernetics and robotics while also dealing with a daughter who's been reduced to a near vegetative state because of some vaguely defined yet debilitating health condition. A young and (of course) beautiful new programmer named Ava (Caity Lotz) comes on board with a program that proves extremely advanced and borderline sentient. Ava and Vincent form a strong bond, though the top brass at the facility raise some questions about Ava's suitability for the mission given some signs of political radicalism in her past. After a few sinister machinations from the heads of the research facility, this leads to the creation of a new anthropomorphic killing machine that may or may not have developed actual AI. In terms of the aesthetics of The Machine, the film is never bland to look at. Cinematographer Nicolai Brüel makes the movie look like higher-end 1980s sci-fi, though it's teased up with lots of lens flare and artful color correction. The production design is also well done, in particular the machine itself. Its creation is one of the film's standout set pieces, one rendered in a crescendo of synth and awe via the score. Somehow the imagery is familiar and yet comes into its own. There's a later set piece where the machine, in a fit of immature humanity, decides to dance in the underground lair. It's nicely handled with just the right amount of CG flourish to suggest the machine's joy and fluster in a room that's all shadows and artfully wet concrete. But all this style can't really mask a subpar story that's dependent on nostalgia for the 1980s sci-fi films being referenced. The Machine never breaks its pre-programmed storytelling or transcends being a shoddy copy of superior movies. Since a unique personality for The Machine doesn't emerge, the wonderful look of the film winds up being an exercise in useless beauty that's sub-RoboCop knock-off, sub-Terminator knock-off, and sub-Blade Runner knock-off at best. It doesn't help that Lotz's performance isn't too convincing in the first half of the film, and Stephens has little if any chemistry with her or anyone. What's most frustrating for me about The Machine is that writer/director Caradog James included elements that could have distinguished his film from its forebears. These touches could have elevated the material beyond mere 1980s rental fodder made in the 21st century. The first few scenes of the film show how the AI and robotics research is done. Both present ethical and philosophical ideas that could have pushed the material out of familiar territory and still easily have been merged into a sci-fi/action third act. Sadly the promise is squandered. Many of the machines that guard the research facility are made from the bodies of soldiers who were severely wounded in the second Cold War. One troop whose head is half blown off is revived to check his cognition and memory. The rest of the troops have generally lost the ability to speak and instead communicate with other machines through this growling, part-guttural and part-digital speech that only they can understand. This emergence of an independent robot proto-society alongside the humans is a sign of potential AI -- culture and language doesn't just emerge on their own -- but for some reason this is just left on the side and never really explored. On top of that, so many of the images and circumstances surrounding these robot test subjects recall Guantanamo Bay -- orange jumpsuits, cages, indefinite internment. It's all there as suggestion rather than an integral part of the film's plot, which is odd given Ava's suspect political positions. There's a sociopolitical charge in this material that's just tossed aside like some superfluous detail when it really could have been the defining quality of The Machine. Maybe this could have made the film feel less like an '80s throwback and more like like its own thing. Yet the most intriguing part of The Machine for me involved Vincent talking to colored walls. This is the method used to test the reasoning of various programs that come his way. Vincent conducts the Turing test, named after Alan Turing, the father of computer science and AI research. Vincent asks one wall a question, and the wall responds to the question to demonstrate human-like abstract thinking. A second wall is asked a question -- ostensibly a second hemisphere of the AI brain -- and the conversation continues. Evidence of AI would involve responses that emerge from the program's own ability to learn from speech, something that comes independent of pre-programmed responses. At one point, Vincent asks a colored wall something like this: If a child sees a dog in a window, what does the child want and why. The wall responds with poetic abstract thinking, which is both absurd and yet so human. In fact, it overthinks its response in order to sound more human, which is such a fascinating conceit. Maybe the reason I responded to scenes that involved talking walls is because these moments contained some surprises and new possibilities, both of which are lacking in the rest of The Machine.
The Machine Review photo
You probably rented this on VHS in the 1980s
Retro-style futures sometimes look more futuristic than modern approximations of what the future will be like, and there's a definite retro aesthetic at work in The Machine. In some ways, it's similar in style to Beyond the B...

Tribeca Review: Tricked

Apr 26 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215488:40011:0[/embed] Tricked (Steekspel)Director: Paul VehoevenRating: TBDCountry: The NetherlandsRelease Date: TBD This sort of storytelling technically isn't new. The surrealists and dadaists used to do exquisite corpses, in which one person would start a story and another person add onto what was previously written, and again and again, until some poor bastard had to finish it up and tie all the loose ends. I remember reading a novel written in this fashion called Naked Came the Manatee, in which each chapter was written by a different Miami-area writer. (It included bits by Dave Barry, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen.) Verhoeven was more selective in his process, and also a bit more limited. As he explained in a discussion after the screening of the film, he was stuck with amateur writers in the country since none of the film schools in The Netherlands wanted to participate. He received lots of wonky material that didn't quite work -- stuff with the mafia, aliens, wily-nilly deaths -- and other bits that just didn't consider narrative structure. Rather than just pick one script for the next few minutes, Verhoeven and his team read all the scripts, picked lines and elements they liked, and revised as needed to fit everything together. There's precedent for this in Verhoeven's own career: there was supposedly 41 or 42 drafts of the Total Recall script, and elements he liked from each of the various drafts made their way into the final film. As Verhoeven says again and again in the documentary portion of Tricked, not knowing what was coming next would force him to adapt and be creative, which is an ideal instinct for any artist to unlock. Too many times a director or writer or visual artist can develop certain habits or routines. Anything that can help break these habits results in forced creativity, as if new skills are being invented or old skills are being reconsidered and reevaluated. That's the nature of constraint in creativity: limitation can lead to new avenues of exploration. While it is genuinely fascinating to consider this, the making-of segment of Tricked goes on a bit too long, but it's mostly because the same ideas about unpredictability and creativity get continually restated. Once the storytelling machinery is described and we see Verhoeven labor over the notekeeping and organizational duties of synthesizing thousands of pages, I felt anxious to see the actual movie. As the anticipation kept mounting, the first half felt flabbier and flabbier. Once the short film portion of Tricked kicks in, the project catapults in odd fashion, which probably has a lot to do with the bounding, farcical score. The set-up from the original four minutes written by Kim van Kooten: Remco (Peter Blok) is celebrating his 50th birthday when Nadja (Sallie Harmsen), a woman from his past, shows up unexpected, uninvited, and eight months pregnant. Subplots are built around it, including sexual tension between Remco's pervy son Tobias (Robert de Hoog) and his sister's friend Merel (Gaite Jansen). From this starting point, the story in Tricked takes plenty of sexy and sleazy twists, which would be the sorts of things found in sexy and sleazy soap operas. Tricked is full of double-crosses and some signature Verhoeven reversals/reveals, though it's very light in tone rather than dark or thrilling. I assume some of this was Verhoeven trying to feel his way through the tone of what he was given, and maybe the stuff that stuck with him was the light stuff. Parts of Tricked feel genuinely unpredictable since Verhoeven and his cast were unable to anticipate and telegraph things, while other parts feel more old hat. Maybe Tricked could have been spiced up even more had Verhoeven resisted his impulse for a cohesive narrative that fit with van Kooten's original pages. I wondered what would happen if Verhoeven had decided to add a mafia element or aliens and then had to deal with that complication that didn't fit the initial scenario. He mentioned in the Q & A after the film that one frequent contributor to the project was a guy who wrote scuzzy sex scene after scuzzy sex scene, creating an entire BDSM scenario that Verhoeven never considered putting in the film. But what if? That would have made the movie a full-on exquisite corpse and totally unpredictable, which would make the final attempt to tie things up a remarkable feat that would push Verhoeven into really bizarre territory. Instead, Verhoeven's end result is an interesting assemblage based on what appealed to him and his sensibilities. A full sense of unpredictability is replaced by a kind of controlled play and narrative safety. Elements can be picked and used as needed or discarded if they don't work or if Verhoeven isn't interested. In that way, Tricked is more like playing with Legos rather than entire toy box that's been dumped out on the floor of the living room. Verhoeven also mentioned that there were 12 amateur versions of Tricked that were made by others since all script pages were public online. Verhoeven watched and borrowed shots from these alternate-Trickeds -- homage as flattery and theft as flattery, I guess. Verhoeven fans will probably find Tricked more amusing than people just watching it out of curiosity, and even then, the movie itself doesn't have the compelling bite of Verhoeven's best work in his past. I still admire the experiment and ballsiness of it, but it would have been more interesting if Verhoeven had jumped into the unknown without a parachute. Maybe another adventurous soul could give this process a go with a group of writers and make something strange and satisfying out of it. If someone reading this is willing to try, just remember to keep the mafia, the sex, and the aliens in there -- the total unpredictability is half the fun.
Tricked Review photo
Paul Verhoeven's noble experiment in crowdsourced screenwriting
Paul Verhoeven is due for a comeback in the United States. He mentioned at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier in the week that Showgirls sort of ruined him in Hollywood, and that Starship Troopers didn't help matters either si...

Tribeca Review: Raze

Apr 26 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215487:40010:0[/embed] RazeDirector: Josh WallerRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD Raze is like a cross between a sub-standard Hostel clone and a sub-standard tournament fighting game. A bunch of kidnapped women are kept in cells and forced to fight to the death for the amusement of a wealthy clientele. If they don't fight, their loved ones die. If they die, their loved ones die. Whoever wins becomes "transformed" in some way. And, well, that's pretty much it. The only extra bit to the story involves Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn as the couple (presumably two vintners of some kind) in charge of this centuries-long ritual of Misogynist Kombat. The duo believe that these women who are forced to fight embody the spirit of the Maenads, those female worshippers of Dionysus who were known to rip up animals and people in drunken, orgiastic frenzies. Oh, and a high-profile actress makes a cameo as one of the female combatants who gets brutally, brutally, brutally beaten to death. She has maybe one line that's squeaked out as part of her death knell. Bell plays Sabrina, whose daughter is in danger. Around Sabrina are a bunch of unfortunate fodder characters who you suspect will die at some point because they're not the main villain combatant. That person, Phoebe, is played by Rebecca Marshall, who's really good at being a total nutcase. Much of the film is spent waiting for the moment when Sabrina and Phoebe eventually duke it out, and their clash and their antagonism is one of the few bright spots in this mostly dismal affair. It just makes me wish they were both in a much better movie. I mentioned tone earlier as the film's main problem, and once everything gets going, it becomes clear that this is not going to be shot like a tournament fighting movie a la Bloodsport. Instead, all of the fights are treated like they're straight out of a Saw movie, and by that I mean there's a little too much delight in sadism and fucked-upness. There are brutal fights in a lot of other movies, yeah, and I like brutal fights in those films, but here in Raze the brutality is basically like the stuff out of torture porn movie, and I just can't stand torture porn. The film's so off-putting, and probably not in the way that first-time director Josh Waller intended. There's a weird line between brutality and sadism, and when Raze strays into the sadistic side of things, it just becomes impossible for the movie to feel anything but misogynistic. I started wondering how I'd feel if the women in Raze were all replaced with men, and I realized I would've responded the same way (though it wouldn't feel misogynist, obviously). Even women-in-prison movies present a greater sense of empowerment than Raze. At least in those kinds of exploitation films there's the possibility of more than just getting your head caved in for a lecherous camera that loves it when you bleed real good. Not so much in Raze, which at its core this is just a women-murdering-women movie. And yet, there's a sort of comedic wink before each of these deaths takes place. As two combatants are about to clash, up comes a title card: "_____ vs. _____." I can see these cards as an attempt at ironic subversion of violence in a different film. A flippant gag like this can call attention to how violence is perceived in different contexts and venues, but this isn't a movie concerned with satire or commentary of any kind. The main focus in Raze is crushing windpipes and smearing a face into the dirt for a minute until a mandible collapses or someone's suffocated. Somewhere between all the strangulations and bashings of faces into stonewalls, I wondered if the movie itself was misogynist or if it was just a reflection of the misogyny of the observers. Was the movie sadistic, or were the oppressors merely affecting the film's tone? Maybe Raze was secretly attempting to be feminist in a severely misguided way (aka Sucker Punch feminism). Maybe I was just overthinking everything because I was waiting for more to happen. The film is so one-note about its concerns and its plot that my mind wandered a bit even though the cast were trying their best to float the material. It's really not until the last couple minutes of Raze that a more intriguing possibility for the film emerged. This shift in trajectory was a welcome reprieve from torture porn. Suddenly an actual sense of adventure and derring-do that would be great for Bell and her co-stars. It gets away from being a sub-Saw-clone and instead aspires to Enter the Dragon (aka greatness). But then it gets flushed. Too bad, because I think if this moment toward end had been shifted to the middle of the film, Raze could have been something much cooler than it turned out. These women would have got the hell out of the torture porn genre and moved into much cooler territory. But alas, they had to remain in the clink in this clunker. [For more info on Raze, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Raze Review photo
Street Fighter II: Misogynist Torture Porn Edition
Zoë Bell is a stone cold badass. For years she's been one of the best stunt performers in the world, doubling Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, and even appearing as herself in Death Proof...

Tribeca Review: Lil Bub & Friendz

Apr 24 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215176:39999:0[/embed] Lil Bub & FriendzDirectors: Juliette Eisner and Andy CapperRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD In some ways, Lil Bub & Friendz is a difficult movie to review since the cuteness of Lil Bub and the other cats showed in the documentary render my faculties for criticism moot; their large eyes, their expressive faces, their odd mouths all have a pacifying effect, and I'm just weirdly content to look at cats. That tranquilizing effect is the whole appeal of cat videos, as Andy Capper mentioned in our interview with the Lil Bub & Friends team. Cat memes are a go-to for feeling good because they demand nothing of you and make you giggly. Much of the film's dramatic and narrative weight is on Bridavsky, whose life is transformed by getting Lil Bub. Even Bub's own story of discovery has its own odd dramatic pull given her unique discovery and tragic set of health problems -- bowed and oddly developed bones, no teeth, a short lower jaw, extra toes. She's both an odd companion (something like a Mogwai, maybe) to Mike and a financial boon when he needed it most. The latter was a happy accident of internet cat fandom -- cats are not born internet sensations but instead have that thrust upon them. Some cats that get fandom thrust upon them need help handling their success, or at least their owners do. This brings up a strange world of internet meme marketing, which is an aside in this documentary. A guy named Ben Lashes has become a manager for various internet memes, such as Scumbag Steve and Nyan Cat. If you have a mental picture of what an internet meme manager might be like, Lashes probably fits that image. (Secretly I was hoping he'd be more like Colonel Tom Parker.) The dynamics of Lashes's working relationships are unclear, but it seems like this business side of things could support its own documentary since it's pretty bizarre, especially given how much money a meme like Nyan Cat generates. Nyan Cat's creator donates more to charity in Nyan Cat earnings than I make in a year, a fact both impressive and depressing -- such is the life of the writer. Lil Bub & Friendz glosses over these issues, though, since the focus is more on Bridavsky, Bub, and the fandom of internet cat videos rather than the business of internet cat videos (or the opportunism of some people regarding internet cat videos). I don't usually check out other reviews before writing my own, but I did with Lil Bub & Friendz because I was curious how others took the film's tone. I was a bit surprised to see some hate for the film in one review since it's so light and breezy, much like the cat memes it covers. The film isn't an in-depth examination of memes on the internet, and it doesn't really try to answer the question about why these kinds of pics and vids have such a following online beyond simple notions of community. When one of the interviewees mentions that the internet is like a dog park for cat owners or cat enthusiasts, that seems oddly sufficient for the aims of this doc. To the issue of memes and meme culture, it seems like a dissection of meme culture would be the task of another documentary that would take a longview historical approach -- are cat videos like the smiley faces and "sock it to me's" of the early 21st century? -- and try to understand how cultural ideas catch on and disseminate. (I now long for a cute cat video documentary by Adam Curtis.) Here, there's just a sort of splendor of cat fandom and cat love, and a peek at how it manifests itself on the internet in different forms. One form of that cat love: a man dedicates his life to rescuing illegally bred tigers, lions, and other big cats. Another: an outdoor internet cat video festival in Minneapolis that draws in 10,000 people. Goofy cat love is a bit hard to intellectualize. You can try and try, but cat videos are encountered with purely childlike and emotional responses rather than intellectual ones. Sure, there are issues of facial feature proportions and their analogs to human babies, and sure there's something to be said about animals exhibiting anthropomorphic traits, but the simple fact is that cat videos are so popular on the internet because they are quaint distractions. They're like laser pointers for humans, and maybe that's all that can really be said without trying to diagnose this mania in the culture. Maybe the answer is just that simple. Your love or hate for Lil Bub & Friendz may come down to how you feel about cat videos in general. The fans of cat videos and cat memes will enjoy this a lot more than people who can't stand the memes. Fans of Lil Bub in particular will enjoy learning about her discovery and how she's changed Bridavsky's life for the better. For me, I simply wondered how I'd feel if I watched this as part of a Vice documentary blackhole on a Sunday afternoon, and it does what it does well. Like Lil Bub, the film simply is and demands nothing more, and that's just fine. [For more info on Lil Bub & Friendz, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Lil Bub & Friendz Review photo
You can has a cheezburger, and a pretty amusing documentary
There are a few common blackholes for me on the internet. I'll go into catch-up blackholes where I'll read all the bookmarked articles I've amassed for a few weeks. I'll go on Vice documentary blackholes as well, and exotic p...

Tribeca Review: Run and Jump

Apr 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215333:39993:0[/embed] Run and JumpDirector: Steph GreenRating: TBDCountry: IrelandRelease Date: TBD  Sometimes the stories that I tend to gravitate toward the most are the ones that are sad but sort of funny, or funny but also sort of sad. It's like pop songs about break-ups and loneliness -- the bright moments seem brighter, the low points seem lower, and all because there are two parallel and accompanying emotions that play off each other or even braid together; two tones managed well, both contradictory yet complementary. It's like Stephin Merritt's sleepy voice on the poppiest of Magnetic Fields songs moaning about suicide. For Run and Jump, the sad thread to the story has everything to do with Conor (Edward MacLiam). He's suffered a stroke that's left him a shell of his former self both mentally and physically. He becomes obsessed with bizarre tasks, like making wooden balls in his workshop, or creating a surrogate hand on a stick to touch things. His wife Vanetia (Maxine Peake) does her best to pull through the situation, but the fact is that Conor will never get better even though he's alive. He's like the walking dead in the house, without any love to spare for her or their two children. Instead, he just gaybashes his son and ignores his daughter. And yet there's the upbeat side of the film in the form of Forte's character, Ted, a psychologist from the United States who's come to document Conor's behavior after the stroke. Forte begins his time in the house mostly behind his video camera, more of an outsider than an active participant in these lives. Obviously he'll merge with the family at some point -- again, the idea of separate things braiding -- but the interest in these sorts of stories are the inevitable tangles to come and what's to be made of them. There's a kind of odd magic in Peake and Forte's performances, and there's a great chemistry between them when they're on screen together. Peake's Vanetia is verging on a breakdown and she knows it, and more than Forte, it's Peake's humane performance that really carries this film with remarkable emotional fragility. Not only will she have to raise her children on her own, but she'll need to look after Conor's impossible needs as well. Ted offers friendship and a bit of levity, and also a sense of romance, something that Conor can't provide. There's a moment in the film as their friendship is growing when she asks him to dance in the living room. He refuses but watches her hop around with a kind of teenage abandon. There's actual exhilaration in the house rather than worry, and its as if Vanetia's reliving a memory she shared with Conor that he can't remember anymore but that she can recreate in the now. As she comes crashing down on the couch, breathing heavy, she looks at Ted with eyes that verge on longing -- maybe 15 years ago, maybe if there wasn't a table between, maybe in an alternate universe, this moment would have ended in snogging; tonight, in the house, with the reality of their situations, not so much. Ted also begins to develop feelings for Vanetia and even for her children, who've started to take to him as surrogate dad. There's a sense of home for an outsider, but there's also a conflict of duties -- other threads, this time obligation and passion, again that complementary and contradictory relationship. Ted's there to do research, Vanetia's got a family to raise, and most importantly, it's not like Conor's dead. He's a sympathetic and yet frustrating complication to a developing romance. It's also a love affair that both Ted and Vanetia know can't happen and shouldn't happen but might be sadly inevitable because love is funny that way. These kinds of complicated personal interactions and the conflicting emotions associated with them really captivated me. Run and Jump feels lived in, if that makes sense, especially given how Conor's glimmers of consciousness add an extra jab of pain to the present. There are flashbacks to the past and old photos as well, the sort of nostalgia that, if you had to experience it in real life, would cause a catch in the throat. The tragedy of living with the barely living is a force strong enough to make desperate acts of forced joy, like laugh yoga, seem like a good idea. Run and Jump stumbles at bit in its last third. I think it has less to do with what happens with the plot or the character since the film's finale feels exactly right, but it just sort of loses its way a little en route to the conclusion. Pregnant pauses and silences come to dominate scenes, with occasional moments of urgency that didn't quite hit their mark for me even though the instinct was right. And yet it makes sense for these characters who know that their time together is drawing to a close. In some ways, they were playing house and playing family, but playtime has to end for everyone. It's awkward figuring out how to end this whole game that'll make everyone happy, but at the very least playing it was a blast. These are the sorts of experiences that none of them will forget -- things that will be more helpful during the dark hours than laugh yoga, almost as helpful as dancing with the people you love. [For more info on Run and Jump, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Run and Jump Review photo
Will Forte takes a turn for the dramatic in Steph Green's sad-in-a-funny-way debut
Run and Jump features a bit of semi-stunt casting that got me interested in the movie: the film features Saturday Night Live's Will Forte in a dramatic role. The role isn't devoid of humor, however. Like Steve Carell in Littl...

Tribeca Interview: The makers of Lil Bub & Friendz

Apr 22 // Hubert Vigilla
Can you talk about how the documentary started? Juliette Eisner: So I heard about the first ever Internet Cat Video Festival being held in Minneapolis, and I thought it was hilarious that a museum was going to have a festival dedicated to cat videos. I pitched this idea to Andy, who's a senior producer at Vice, and he came along. We actually invited Bub with us to be our token celebrity cat. [laughs] So you have some celebrity cred. Juliette Eisner: Exactly! Right? But after going to the festival and only expecting like 300 or 400 people to turn up and instead seeing 10,000 people there, we realized that this was a big deal. And then on top of that, Bub was just an inspirational creature, and we loved her story and got along really well with Mike. Andy Capper: [Bub] just looked great on camera, and the story behind her was really compelling. It was like emotional depth in it, so we thought, "Let's do this." Juliette Eisner: I think it was a combination of the festival, on top of so many people who wanted to share this cat video experience and realizing how how big of a deal it was to them, and then Bub-- [Editor's note: We all looked over at Lil Bub getting photographed and started giggling.] It was a golden ticket right there. Since it started with the Internet Cat Video Festival, how did you decide what direction to take the rest of the film? Andy Capper: We saw Bub and realized how special she was, looking-wise and acting-wise, and the story of how she was found was fascinating -- a little girl found her in the woods of Bloomington in the middle of nowhere, and like saved her from coyotes. There's an element of drama there already. Juliette Eisner: Yeah. Yeah. Andy Capper: Natural drama. And Bub's health problems, and how important she is to Mike, and what it means to loads of other people, there was tons of different elements. Juliette Eisner: I mean, this cat has a lot of [health issues] -- she's a special-needs cat. She has a lot of deformities and has gone above and beyond it and has become a celebrity in her own right. It's very much a story about being the underdog and coming out on top as well. In terms of shooting, how much did you hang out with Mike to get Lil Bub on camera and everything? Andy Capper: At Vice we do a lot of immersive journalism, so you live with a person. You kind of have to-- It was easy to befriend Mike because he's such a good guy and we came from the same background, so you become friends during the process of the movie. This is how you get intimate moments. I end up staying friends with most subjects as well; such a weird, large selection of friends. Juliette Eisner: We speak to Mike everyday. Andy Capper: Interesting people like Mike. It's one of the perks of the job. Juliette Eisner: And the same thing goes for Tabatha, Grumpy Cat's owner. She was such a pleasure to work with, and we wanted to stay in touch with her as well. Everybody in the cat community fairly friendly. There was an interesting moment in the doc where it talked about the internet as the dog park for cats. Had either of you had that impression before? Juliette Eisner: Ummm... Andy Capper: I hadn't thought about it. Juliette Eisner: I think with the Internet Cat Video Festival, that was the big eye-opening moment when we realized that so many people had come out to watch these. There are so many people sitting behind their computer online who are looking at cat videos, and they want to share this with the rest of the cat lovers. I mean, 10,000 people were at this event. Andy Capper: It's kind of really simple, this secret to the success of cat videos: people's lives are really complex, stressful, dramatic. You enter into different situations and usually you turn out a loser. [laughs] [laughs] Andy Capper: If you go on the internet and look at a cat video, usually 99% of the time you come out a winner. It's made you laugh or it's made you go "aww." It's a reliable go-to thing that people like. It's really simple. Could you talk about editing and shaping your documentary once you had all your footage? Juliette Eisner: I think the editing process started with post-it notes-- Andy Capper: The post-it note method. Pioneering it. [laughs] Juliette Eisner: Andy and I just sat together and decided how we wanted it to look, and then we brought Devin Yuceil on board, our editor. He's actually from the UK. Andy Capper: And Danilo [Parra], the main DP, he also edited some sequences together. Juliette Eisner: And it was a very tight-knit group going back and forth everyday talking about what we wanted the project to look like, and everyone was just laughing the entire time. Could you talk about the experience you had at the big cat rescue center? That was a sequence I didn't expect. [Editor's note: About this time is where Mike and Lil Bub joined the conversation in progress.] Andy Capper: I wanted to make a wildlife movie after that, just being so close to them. [laughs] Andy Capper: Next to those tigers. I snuck in a bit that you weren't meant to be in, and had like the gnarliest tigers in the whole thing. Six of them around me, and I'm filming them like this, "Oooooh fuck!" And one of them roared behind me. The noises and everything, just amazing. Juliette Eisner: But that too was just a whole new perspective on people who love cats. This person, Joe Taft, who owned this center, he just dedicated his whole life to rescuing these larger cats. Andy Capper: The lengths people go to. Juliette Eisner: He, like Mike, is a very good caretaker for these animals. Andy Capper: It's more of a movie about why people love cats rather than trying to explain modern internet politics. I have no interest in the second subject. Other people do, but... Juliette Eisner: I think we do touch on how this is a big, culturally relevant thing on the internet. Andy Capper: That's in there if you want to hear about that, but mainly it's supposed to be like an E.T. Vibe or something -- do you know what I'm saying? It's like there's these wonderful little creatures and people are all about them. Actually, Mike, could you talk about the experience of being the subject of a documentary along with Lil Bub? Mike Bridavsky: Yeah, it came out of nowhere really. I never planned on this happening, so it's all been sort of a crazy ride. She got famous from a photo, and things started blowing up real fast. We never sought out any of these opportunities, we just do things as they come. You know, at any point I was waiting ready for [the internet sensation] to wind down and I could go back to my regular life, but it keeps getting more intense. Part of that is this documentary, and working with Andy and Juliette's been great. I feel really fortunate that the people who decided to make this documentary about my cat are now my pals, you know? I'm not sure if it always works out that way. [laughs] Juliette Eisner: [laughs] Andy Capper: [laughs] [laughs] Whoop. Let me just wait for this plane to pass by. [Editor's note: A plane passes overhead.] Mike Bridavsky: [looks up at the plane then down at Lil Bub] They're not coming for you, Bub! [laughs] So are you all looking forward to the drive-in tonight? Juliette Eisner: Yeah. It's funny because this is essentially like our own Cat Video festival. [laughs] [laughs] Juliette Eisner: Except it's our movie instead of like 60 other videos. Andy Capper: I think they're going to show our film at the next [Internet Cat Video Festival] they have in Minneapolis, right? Really? Juliette Eisner: Oh. Umm, maybe. Mike Bridavsky: Are they going to show [Lil Bub & Friendz] at the New York one? Juliette Eisner: Maybe. [laughs] To be determined. We'll see. There's a New York Cat Video Festival? Mike Bridavsky: Yeah. Andy Capper: We should just franchise and make Lil Bub concerts. [laughs] Juliette Eisner: This is going to be fun, like-- Andy Capper: We'd become like, who knows-- Like Lil Bubchella. [Editor's note: I should have said "Bubaroo."] Juliette Eisner: Yeah. Mike Bridavsky: Or Rocky Horror. Like people with cat food just throwing it at the screen. [laughs] Andy Capper: [laughs] Juliette Eisner: [laughs] But I think this is what it's all about! Getting people to come together and laugh about cats. There's no better place to do it than an outdoor free festival. Andy Capper: I want to take it on the road, actually. Promoters need to get in touch with Juliette! Mike Bridavsky: I wonder if the crazy cat person term will disappear and won't be crazy anymore. Like it's crazy not to like cats. Juliette Eisner: I mean, I think it already has to a certain extent. There are people with like 80 cats at home who are definitely not socially accepted. I think being a cat person, as Grant Mayland would say in our film, is cool. Urban Outfitters sells t-shirts with cats, you know? It's like you're a cat enthusiast rather than a crazy cat person. Mike Bridavsky: Yeah. It's fashionable to like them. [embed]215449:39992:0[/embed]
Lil Bub Interview photo
Talking with Juliette Eisner, Andy Capper, and Lil Bub's owner Mike Bridavsky
Juliette Eisner and Andy Capper delve into the odd and adorable world of cat memes in their film Lil Bub & Friendz. The documentary provides an overview of the internet cat phenomenon, with special focus on Mike Brid...

Tribeca Review: Mistaken for Strangers

Apr 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215435:39988:0[/embed] Mistaken for StrangersDirector: Tom BerningerRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD Back when Mistaken for Strangers was announced as the opening night film for the Tribeca Film Festival, the film was compared to Dig! and American Movie, and I can see a lot of the latter in it. Tom Berninger has a little bit of Mark Borchardt in him: a guy who's known only hard luck who's just trying to finish up a film. Tom's actually made some movies of his own that Mark probably would admire. One of them's about a caveman going on a gory rampage, which we get to see a little bit of in all its bloody and grunting glory. Tom's asked to work as roadie for The National during their tour to support the album High Violet. It's a gig he's lucky to snag since he's in a rut in life -- single, barely employed, listless. Tom brings along a camera and thinks it'd be a good idea to make a documentary on the band. As pointed out at the beginning, The National is comprised of two sets of brothers (guitarists Aaron & Bryce Dessner and bassist and drummer Scott & Bryan Devendorf) and Matt. There's a strange sort of symmetry created by bringing Tom along even though he's backstage rather than on stage. Tom has certain expectations about the rock star lifestyle that he hopes to experience -- partying, partying, more partying -- but a good amount of the tension in the film comes from Tom realizing that those rock star fantasies aren't true. Given, Tom's more into 80s metal, which has a reputation for Bacchanalian excess backstage, so his expectations were much different. At indie rock shows, not so much. It's more like hanging out at a friend's apartment, but Werner Herzog shows up as a guest. Tom's fantasy of being a beloved rockumentarian doesn't go as well as he'd hoped either. His primary duty is as a roadie, but he keeps acting like he's the tour's official videographer. As a documentarian, Tom's somewhat inept but in an almost adorable way; as an interviewer, he's a little like Chris Farley when he did the Chris Farley Show sketches on Saturday Night Live. The questions tend to be more awkward than enlightening, and his tone seems a mix of self-deprecating and inquisitive. It's as if Tom is making this all up as he goes along, which isn't so far from the truth. As the doc takes greater shape throughout the course of the film, the questions that Tom asks reveal a lot more about what's really on his mind and what's been nagging him ever since the beginning of the project. One elephant in the room: envy. Matt's nine years older and a rock star of some renown; people call him a genius pretty regularly, and his creativity is continually reinforced by everyone who talks or writes about him. Tom seems to be just getting by, and no one really cares much about him or what he does. In a moment of sibling resentment, Tom says to Matt that he's frustrated that people think the only reason he has a job as a roadie is because he's the lead singer's little brother. I think it's more denial than obliviousness, but people cling hard to things that they have when they don't have much else. Mistaken for Strangers is a documentary that really took shape through the editing. I imagine Tom looking through all the footage he shot and wondering what the hell he'd make of it all since he didn't really have a plan going in. He does have a lot of awkward intro shots of the band members, though. I imagine that had things just fallen into place the way Tom has hoped, Mistaken for Strangers would have been a standard concert movie with interviews and backstage antics. But because of what happens to him over the course of the movie, the doc goes in a different direction and becomes less about The National and more about Tom. There's a big danger in doing that, of course, which is why I mentioned that Mistaken for Strangers isn't the film profile on The National you're looking for. Documentaries that become more about the filmmakers than the subject matter can feel wobbly and narcissistic depending on the person behind the camera. With Tom, the narcissism is tamped down by a lifetime of self-doubt and failure. There's pressure to break the pattern even if it continues in some ways. Sure it's not a good music documentary, but squares aren't great circles either. Even if Mistaken for Strangers was supposed to be a music doc, it really isn't just a music documentary anymore, and it's good at being what it is now. Instead of a tour doc, Mistaken for Strangers is like a portrait of a palooka used to screwing up and letting people down and used to being frustrated by that fact. This is Tom's attempt to do something he can be proud of for once, and something that'll make his brother proud of him. More than that, it's Tom trying to show himself that he isn't as big of a fuck up as he may think he is. Tom may have botched a lot of stuff while trying to make the film, but as a finished movie, I think he stuck the landing. This one's going on the fridge. [For more info on Mistaken for Strangers, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Mistaken for Strangers photo
♫ I won't f**k us over, I'm the lead singer's brother / I'm the lead singer's brother, I won't f**k us over ♫
If you're going into Mistaken for Strangers looking for a rockumentary/tour documentary on The National, you're in for disappointment. The film was directed by Tom Berninger, the younger brother of the band's frontman Matt Be...

Tribeca Review: Mr. Jones

Apr 21 // Hubert Vigilla
Mr. JonesDirector: Karl MeullerRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD The opening of Mr. Jones had some shades of the film Resolution, which Alec and I both enjoyed at last year's Tribeca Film Festival. Scott (Jon Foster) goes to a remote cabin in the woods to make a nature documentary of some kind. His wife Penny (Sarah Jones) comes along to help, or maybe just hang out. Or maybe they were going to move there a long while? It's hard to say. There's friction in their relationship as Scott tries to make his doc, and Penny gets angry at him because she claims to have left her job and her friends just to be out at the cabin with him. The first few weeks of their stay are condensed into a montage of wildlife imagery and Walden-esque dallying, over which Scott asks rhetorical questions in a voiceover that gradually becomes more depressing. Ostensibly the entire film that follows is a documentary that Scott has made. The duo soon finds out that they have a neighbor out in these remote parts: an artist known only as Mr. Jones. As Penny puts it, he's like a mix of J.D. Salinger and Banksy. The documentary eventually becomes about Mr. Jones and his eerie scarecrows that he mails to people, and what he's actually doing out there in the woods. A fake documentary about nature that becomes a fake documentary about a person possibly going mad can be promising, especially since the larger mythology constructed around the Mr. Jones character is pretty cool. Jones is also pretty striking from a visual standpoint: he looks like druid or a drifter or a guy in the background of a black metal video. Or, in this case, it's promising until it isn't anymore. Mr. Jones eventually dumps its found footage conceit, which just left me wondering why it began as a found footage movie in the first place. Found footage doesn't add anything to the film and only detracts from its strengths because the use of found footage makes no sense once you start to think about it. If Scott is making a nature documentary, why would he film himself and Penny in bed at night? The camera's on all night long as well. Is there some sort of fruit bat that swoops through the house that they're hoping to catch at an awkward angle? Do they have a pet barn owl that likes to cuddle with them at night? Why waste time with meaningless footage? There's a meaningful interaction between them, but it doesn't make sense that this moment would be something captured on video given the kind of documentary that Scott is making. Scott heads to New York to find out more about Mr. Jones the artist, and that footage didn't pass the smell test either. Why the extended, sped-up, hip-hop montage to signify the trip to New York? It's not that hard to denote New York City in a few shots, but the most banal aspects of the city are aesthetically fetishized in this film -- streets, hotel rooms, subway turnstiles, the entrance of MoMA. The footage he shoots dumps lots of exposition about the work of Mr. Jones, and info dumps like this are transparent and reek. More than that, it's a cross between raw talking-head interviews and properly edited taking-head interviews that artfully dovetail together. Did Scott partially edit the artist doc material? And why have it half-raw and half-finished? When the form doesn't work, these things just become glaring to me. Similarly, Scott makes a camera rig that allows him to shoot his own face while shooting footage. Basically it gets around the one-camera, one-POV dilemma common to all found footage movies. It's an admittedly clever way to add reaction shots during the scary moments, but it makes absolutely no sense in-story. If Scott is making a nature documentary that becomes an artist profile doc, why would he be shooting his own face as well? Why would he want his own reaction shots to ants and pine needles and scarecrows? And when he eventually goes around trying to uncover the mysteries of Mr. Jones's own home, why bring the rig? Why not just use a regular camera that's less cumbersome? The point of using found footage and fake documentary forms, at least to me, is to create a sense of verisimilitude -- that this is stuff that actually happened and the method of shooting and the footage shared takes that sense of reality to its conclusion. This applies to comedy mockumentaries like This is Spinal Tap as well as horror movies like [REC] and Cloverfield. Sure you have to suspend disbelief to an extent, but if things can be justified in-story well enough, that's all that's required, and it's just not here. Which brings me back to the odd break in Mr. Jones when it stops being a found footage movie/fake documentary. That's when the movie's pretty good (until it feels boring and drawn out), and it just makes the found footage material seem so unnecessary. Unless this is still somehow part of Scott's abandoned nature documentary turned abandoned artist documentary turned supernatural-descent-into-madness documentary. It's all just so slapdash and ill-considered, and after I left the theater, I felt agitated and said to two other critics who also saw the film, "Jesus, I fucking hate found footage movies!" While it's true that found footage films are cheaper and quicker to make than other kinds of movies, I can't help but feel that there are too many filmmakers who aren't using it properly as a storytelling tool. The creativity and inventiveness is there in Mr. Jones, but it's stifled rather than enhanced because the movie is a dumb found footage film, which is a damn shame. (It also doesn't help that Scott and Penny are total nitwits.) So please, make it stop. [For tickets and more info on Mr. Jones, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Mr. Jones Review photo
The case against found footage
Filmmakers who are reading this: please, just stop with the found footage already. Seriously. Stop it. For the love of all that is good in the world, please stop it because you're hurting the quality of your own work. Actuall...

Tribeca Review: Bending Steel

Apr 20 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215317:39984:0[/embed] Bending SteelDirector: Dave CarrollRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn't want to come off the mat, it's the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn't teach you anything. That's the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you. -- Henry Rollins, "The Iron" Chris Schoeck seems like an unassuming guy, or at least not the sort of person you'd expect to be a strongman. There's a certain picture in the mind of the old-time strongman, one linked to the Coney Island boardwalk of the past: waxed facial hair, tall, imposing, and a with a personality to match. Schoeck's mentor, Chris "Hairculese" Rider, fits the bill better. I actually ran into both Schoeck and Rider between screenings during the festival, and the contrast is pretty fascinating. Schoeck is about my height and weight, and yet he's able to turn crescent wrenches into pretzels. There's an awkwardness to the beginning of Bending Steel that seems strange at first. It begins quiet, hesitant, maybe even withdrawn and at a distance. But the movie loosens up as Schoeck gets more comfortable as a strongman. It's the peculiar match of form, content, and subject in a documentary. The thing about bending steel as mentioned in the film is that heat is generated when a metal becomes malleable; the film itself warms up as we learn more about Schoeck. According to Schoeck's parents, he's never really seen anything to the finish. He'd get enthusiastic about something for a while and then just drop it, and it might be the case with being an old-time strongman. Schoeck's first performances reveal a deep shyness and social awkwardness, even a sort of endearing ineptitude. At one demonstration of strength, be bends metal like taffy in just a few seconds, but he doesn't take a moment to show his handiwork to the people who are watching. Just as he puts away the bent object -- I believe it was a wrench -- a kid heckles off-camera, "We can't see it!" There's a sense that Schoeck is very critical of himself, but he doesn't know what to do to get over his performance anxiety. He has the ability, and his size makes his feats of strength seem even more remarkable, but if he wants to become a proper strongman he needs to work on his stagecraft. Rider does his best to mold his protege, but it's really up to Schoeck to change himself. That may be a more difficult feat than tearing phonebooks or ripping a deck of playing cards. Schoeck's such an easy person to root for since he's an earnest underdog who's been holding back all his life. This is his shot at breaking free. Schoeck's not in this alone, thankfully. There are people to help him along the way in addition to Rider. Director Dave Carroll takes time to show how Schoeck fits into the community of modern-day old-time strongmen. It's a niche group, but niche groups tend to be extremely enthusiastic and more supportive. Schoeck's a talented bit of newblood, but he's severely shut in and isolated, and he has been for much of his life. By joining the strongman community, there's a sense that this brotherhood of lifters, benders, and breakers can give Schoeck the extra strength he needs to do the impossible. Sometimes all it takes to make a person excel is finding someone who actually believes in their potential. When someone genuinely believes in you and lets you know it, it becomes a convenient excuse to finally start believing in yourself. Even though I used the word "impossible" above, what strongmen do is not impossible. Improbable sure, and unbelievable definitely, but it's no illusion. It is the ultimate example of mind over matter -- the will makes the body exert strength which forces another object to bend to the will. It takes work, though, but it's an odd reminder of human potential in the most rudimentary of ways. Sure, there are levers, pulleys, and other machines that can exert this same amount of effort and more, but we're still capable of impressing ourselves. Schoeck and the strongman community go beyond pain and push themselves always, and it's that ability to withstand and to endure that allows them to do incredible feats of strength. Hearing Schoeck describe what the sensation of bending steel is like is both unique to what he does and yet applicable to any goal people set out to accomplish. I think that's what I love so much about these stories about people pursuing a vocation and finding a life lesson in it. The act of bending steel is a bit of a MacGuffin since it could be any act that results in some form of self-actualization and personal growth, but the act of bending steel is also a great metaphor for anything a person wants to achieve no matter what it may be. Things that seem impossible can be done, it just takes enough passion, enough effort, and enough will channeled properly into the moment. Think of that Flaming Lips song, "The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat)," and now apply it to all things. No task is too imposing. Well, okay. Maybe not always. There are still imposing tasks in the world, I suppose; impossible things too. For Schoeck, the impossible is mounted on the wall of his apartment: a steel bar that's two inches wide and 3/8 of an inch thick. He can bend thinner and narrower steel bars no problem, but just a bit more matter is enough to make him consider giving up (again). The mind is beaten by steel, and the body allows itself to be defeated as well. Schoeck strains and strains on the two-inch wide 3/8-inch thick bar, the steel pressed so hard against his thigh I was afraid his femur would snap in half. Just a few eighths of an inch means the difference between success and humiliation, but that's the nature of dealing with metal. Steel simply is and will never lie about a person's limitations. Like Rollins says at the end of "The Iron": The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you're a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds. Steel -- iron refined -- is an even more merciless son of a bitch. Whether Chris succeeds or not at being a strongman, the most important thing is that he's coming into his own. It may be the first time in his life, I don't know, but the way Carroll captures Schoeck on stage and at home, it really seems like it. Whatever happens, there is always the certainty of steel and the personal drive to make it do whatever he wants; 3/8 of an inch is always 3/8 of an inch, and two inches is always two inches, but Chris Schoeck is finally becoming Chris Schoeck. [For more info on Bending Steel, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Bending Steel Review photo
Zen and the art of being an old-timey strongman
I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself. Completely. That's how Henry Rollins begins the essay "The Iron," which is all about how ...

Tribeca Review: Adult World

Apr 19 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215360:39981:0[/embed] Adult WorldDirector: Scott CoffeyRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD The difference between a sheltered 16 year old and a 23 year old who successfully completed college can't be understated, especially if the character got good (not just decent) grades at school. A person learns a lot in those seven years, and lives a lot too. If that person's a writer (even a really bad one), he or she is bound to read a fair amount of work and learn a good amount of craft before leaving with a BA. I'm not sure about the undergrad literature department at Syracuse and their creative writing classes, but their MFA program is good -- the faculty includes George Saunders, who's one America's best writers, often compared in glowing terms to both Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain. Amy would probably have done her best to get in the good graces of some poet teaching at Syracuse while she was there. That poet is Rat Billings (John Cusack), whose work she discovers one night on the street after leaving a college party. For some reason Amy, the Billings obsessive who has read all of his work, never knew that Billings taught at her own school, and she never tried to seek him out until after she graduated from college. Come to think of it, I think she's supposed to be a relatively recent college graduate, but somehow she hasn't paid her student loan for months. When we first peek into Amy's life, she's trying to make it on her own without her parents' help. She cluelessly submits her awful work to The New Yorker and Harper's. She gets a job at a quirky, oddball mom-and-pop porn shop called Adult World, which looks a bit more like a local indie bookstore. She makes quirky, oddball friends, including her co-worker Alex (Evan Peters) and a transvestite named Rubia (Armando Riesco). Somehow Amy is sexually clueless at her age and has never hung out with a person in drag; and at one point she even scolds a customer for renting sexist material. (Why a contemporary college grad would be so second-wave-feminism about porn is a bit odd to me since the sex-positive third-wave has been around for a generation now. The kids these days, they love it; the kids my day, they loved it too.) So many of the problems above might have been fixed if director Scott Coffey and screenwriter Andy Cochran just de-aged Amy. She's written like a sheltered 16 year old, so just make her a sheltered 16 year old. Take her out of college completely so there's no problem of too much inexperience and too much naivete and not enough friends. For some reason the only friend that Amy made during college and still talks to is Candance (Shannon Woodward); for some reason Amy didn't want to hang out with other bad poets, which are plentiful -- in most undergrad programs across the country, there are usually four bad ones for every good one. Without the college degree, Amy is now a tyro expressing the amateur's enthusiasm about writing; a character who reads poetry but doesn't understand its music, its meaning, or its pleasures on anything but a superficial level; the exact sort of person interested only in the idea of being a writer rather than what it takes to become a good writer. (Though sadly that sort of delusion and ineptitude persists even in people who have literature degrees from accredited universities.) Maybe I'm a little too harsh on the film since the performances are actually pretty good. While I could do without the overdose of quirky and oddball like a folksy mom-and-pop porn store, it's always nice to see Cloris Leachman around. Riesco's fun when on screen, and Roberts has the right amount of psychotic enthusiasm. Cusack is interesting in the movie in that he lacks the usual quirks of writers depicted on film. He's simply a guy doing work, which is what being a writer is about. There's no magic -- it's a person who takes writing seriously and writes and reads. It's not as romantic as the idea of being a writer, that fantastical thing that draws so many people into writing crappy poetry and wretched prose. The machinery for a small-scale satire on the lit scene is in Adult World as well, though never quite realized. Young and dumb Amy laments not breaking big at an early age. To that Billings plainly says something like, "Fame is the bane of your generation, kid." It's actually pretty true. There's so much pressure felt by twentysomethings to achieve and to succeed when young. For every Jonathan Safran Foer and others in The New Yorker's 20 under 40 list, there are plenty of writers who work diligently and find no success until later in life (Jennifer Egan talked about that after A Visit from the Goon Squad hit big) or even people who didn't publish work until much later in life (e.g., Raymond Chandler). Outside of this pressure to publish while young, Adult World also jabs at the coddling of precious little snowflakes. Both of Amy's folks support her writing and tell her it's great, but it's just plain garbage. It's the kind of dreck that would get polite applause at a sparsely attended open mic and would only be remembered for being quotably bad. The idea that opinions about quality are subjective can be valid with most works made with some level of competence, but sometimes a poem or a book is legitimately bad and there's no getting around it. It would save a lot of frustration if the little snowflakes of the world were just told their stuff was crap when it's crap. The young people who care about their craft would take it on the chin and improve. As I step back from Adult World, I like what it is at its heart: a young writer's journey of self-discovery in which she may learn that she really, really sucks at writing. But as they tell a lot of students in those lower-division intro to creative writing classes, it's all about the execution. [For tickets and more info on Adult World, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Adult World Review photo
A bad young poet tries to write more good
In my blurb review for Neil Jordan's vampire film Byzantium, my main gripe had a lot to do with the age of the main character. Eleanor in that movie is a well-traveled and world-hardened 200 years old, but she's written like ...

Tribeca Review: The Genius of Marian

Apr 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215180:39960:0[/embed] The Genius of MarianDirectors: Banker White and Anna FitchRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD There's very little that's guarded about The Genius of Marian. The emotions are laid bare without any kind of embarrassment, which makes the film resonate with a heartrending honesty. I sometimes wonder if writers or filmmakers are being too guarded when it comes to personal stories like this. Full emotional disclosures can lead to accusations of sentimentality, and sometimes there's nothing worse than being accused of sentimentality. Thankfully Banker and co-director Anna Fitch don't run away from genuine expressions of joy and grief, whether they come from Pam's family or friends. Some of the pull in The Genius of Marian is just watching the day-to-day routine of Pam's life as she deals with her condition. Her husband Ed tries to keep his good humor about him most of the time. He refuses to hire outside care and decides instead to work from home so he can be with Pam. There's a tender dignity in simple actions we take for granted, like helping her with her coat or applying deodorant. But even his facade has to break at some point. He loves his wife, and it kills him inside what's happening, but that doesn't change the fact that he loves her. That's the general sense from everyone in the film: that someone they love is irreversibly slipping away, and yet she's still there. (She may even be cognizant about her own fate, as a moment toward the end suggests.) At one point in the documentary, one of Pam's friends talks glowingly about the Pam she's known -- Pam's wittiness, her funniness -- but she slips when she realizes she's referred to Pam in the past tense. She catches herself but the mistake triggers a paroxysm of guilt. It's the way that deep affection can turn a single word or a Freudian slip into tears. The Genius of Marian is actually the title of a book that Pam began to write about her own mother, the artist Marian Steele. Marian's artwork is seen throughout the film intercut with home movies and old photographs. All of them capture memories in different ways. The works of Marian are mostly landscapes and portraits taken from real life, with the occasional expressive or abstract piece. Pam has kept all of the paintings for safe keeping and for her own sentimental reasons. Marian also developed Alzheimer's later in life. The interesting thing about these paintings is the way that they contribute to the larger conversation in the film about memory and identity and the tragedy of losing both. All these paintings are things that Marian cherished and loved, and Pam has stored them all away as a reminder of her own mother for the family to cherish. She starts writing the book as a way to honor her mother's memory, but soon after that Pam was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I wonder what Marian felt about her work as she started to succumb to the condition. Would the paintings be triggers for memory, things that would bring her back to places and events? Or were they just paintings that she was no longer attached to? It's the odd correlative for people suffering from any sort of memory loss, maybe: the painting's there, but not the life behind the painting. The art is just an artifact or maybe, if there's no sense of close attachment, just an object stored away. And as Pam loses her own memory of the past and of simple words, I wondered what she felt about the paintings. They're placed on the walls of the house and she still keeps them, as if she's hoarding potential memories. The works capture the sorts of moments that are filled with great love. It's hard to tell if Pam remembers; if the recreation of an event can trigger something like the event itself. At one point of the film, a memory from Ed and Pam's life is recreated in the present. Maybe the present is all there is for her, and yet even her short-term memory is a fleeting thing. Over the course of the movie, I couldn't help but feel a little more heartbreak over each new disclosure about Pam's past. She continues to slip away through the film just as the picture of who she was becomes more clear. She smiles a lot, and it's a bright-eyed and full-toothed smile. Maybe it's just how I was feeling as the film went on, but I think I read a kind of sadness or fear in her smile as her condition progressed. It's also something I sense in her words, which were sometimes ironic or and sometimes semi-infantile. There's a living fire being extinguished, but it's smoldering and doesn't go out completely. It's hard to not be moved by something as heartfelt as The Genius of Marian. It's a touching, well-crafted glimpse into an average family that struggles but won't be broken. Maybe think of it less as a documentary or even a memoir or personal essay. This is a memento in some ways -- something to remember two women by, and something that Banker can give his own mother so she won't forget. But it's more than just a token toward recollection; it's a love letter to someone, tragically, unforgettable. [For tickets and more info on The Genius of Marian, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Genius of Marian Review photo
A love letter in the form of a film
Intensely personal documentaries sometimes work best when they eschew notions of reportage and simply become confessions or professions of something. The films are less like dispatches and more like personal essays and memoir...

Tribeca Review: Mobius

Apr 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215349:39957:0[/embed] MöbiusDirector: Éric RochantRating: TBDCountry: FranceRelease Date: TBD Then again, these expectations could just be me, which is why I'll briefly put myself in the shoes of Roth's character in the scene a little bit after the elevator fight. If something bad happened to a person I trusted with my safety, I might show a lot of concern. Since he wasn't the only henchman in my employ, I'd probably ask around to find out where he was. All signs would point to the apartment of Alice (Cecile De France), the woman I've recently hired to earn me a lot of easy money through creative financial malfeasance; she's also someone I'm desperately trying to sleep with. And say, didn't my henchman think something was fishy about her, like she may be followed by an intelligence agent? This would then lead me to do some fishing and find out that Alice has some suspect allegiances of her own because of how close she is to me. On top of that, I'd also learn that her new lover (Dujardin) is really working with Russian intelligence to bring me down. (All of the above is touched on in the first quarter of the movie, so nothing of consequence has been spoiled.) Instead, Roth's character carries on with his life like normal, without added suspicion or security. It's as if someone placed a Papa John's flyer at the gate of his mansion rather than a corpse. These kinds of lapses in character logic can mar an otherwise promising movie, especially when it involves the ostensible antagonist of the film; and up to this point, Möbius is pretty promising given its individual components. It's a spy movie with double-crosses and triple-crosses adapted to its time, with the concern now on international finance rather than nuclear codes. The old combatants and allegiances of the Cold War are still here in the film, though it's the FSB instead of the KGB taking on the CIA; the resentments might be larger now since the late 80s. There's some sexiness to the story too. The seduction of De France is handled with a kind of charming suaveness, and she and Dujardin eventually engage in a few steamy bouts of near-motionless coitus. De France fakes orgasms like she's about to sneeze while stifling a deep belly laugh in a meat locker. Dujardin looks on admiringly, though perhaps more in awe than in love. Theirs is a romance of French whispers and shuddered gasps, so maybe it makes sense that this relationship winds up going into Douglas Sirk territory. Dujardin's an interesting figure to lead his group of intelligence agents. He's a mix of danger and old-Hollywood charisma by way of Europe, but he's also severely incompetent. His personal involvement with Alice jeopardizes the whole intelligence gathering job. He knows this full well, but he never seems to have a Plan B for anything that happens. That might be why I expected the film to suddenly become an escape picture: after the elevator fight, everything about the operation seems botched. Why not get reckless with everything else? But again, for some reason Roth's character seems disinterested. In a lot of ways, this points to one of the biggest weaknesses of Möbius. There's no sense of an active antagonist who's goading our heroes into desperation or danger. It wouldn't even need to be Roth's character giving chase or applying pressure. There's a sense of potential mutiny within the small group of Russian spies trailing Alice, particularly Émilie Dequenne's character. She seems almost resentful to be a mere observer rather than the leader of a high-stakes intelligence mission. Dequenne was incredible in Our Children, but she's squandered here and left mostly on the sidelines throughout. The pressure could have also come from the FSB and the CIA, both of which have interests in a lot of the parties involved. We occasionally get glimpses of the CIA operation since they're keeping tabs on Alice for her role in the global financial crisis. Yet even these large groups seem mostly hands off, with occasional signs of stern disapproval from organization figureheads. They're more interested in clandestine moves punctuated by the occasional gotcha moment. Rather than the escapes and evasions I was expecting, the biggest moment of tension in the film after the elevator fight involves a phone call. It may sound underwhelming, but it's pretty well done. Möbius could have become a collection of small intrigues like this, one clever dodge after the other, each one becoming more complex, the next a potentially fatal misstep. But no, it's a thriller that's low on thrills. [For tickets and more info on Möbius, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
Möbius Review photo
Muddled thrills and multiple fake orgasms
There's a moment in Möbius where I expected a turn toward high-stakes adventure and evasion. As in any story of spies and espionage, this is where a fine plan goes horribly, uncontrollably wrong. People who shouldn't get...


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