Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Friday, January 19, 2007
Spent an enjoyable evening at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood watching a bunch of short films directed by women. It was the American Cinematheque's Second Annual Focus on Female Directors night, a celebration begun and continued by my industrious friend Kim Adelman, who covers short film for the website www.Indiewire.com and has written a fabulous book called The Ultimate Filmmaker's Guide to Short Films: Making It Big in Shorts.
First, I always enjoy a night at Grauman's Egyptian, which since it's remodel has become the most attractive theater in Los Angeles. I am an Egyptophile, so I may be a tad biased, but how many theaters you know have a courtyard containing palm trees, let alone palm trees carefully lit against the sky at night? This theater houses the organization, the American Cinematheque, which does events like last night's Focus on Female Directors, brings back camp classics like Walk on the Wild Side, and promotes the heck out of all sorts of film and filmmakers.
The short films we saw last night were supposedly the creme de la creme of shorts made by women. Zoe Cassavetes directed a 20-minute comedy that evoked her father's realistic style and respect for actors called "Men Make Women Crazy Theory." It was so realistic in its depiction of a neurotic young woman hanging onto a man who treats her poorly that I wanted to shake the character and tell her to get some self respect.
Sanaa Hamri got her start lensing music videos, and we saw an example of this with Prince's video for "Musicology." Very nicely shot. That was followed by the concise, energetic "Viernes Girl," directed by Aurora Guerrero, where an annoyed sister has to listen to her brother seduce a different girl every day, until the Friday girl (Viernes) provides an interesting twist. Ms. Guerrero spoke passionately after the screening about her desire to depict a life more like her own, and how her movie had been shot by a crew that was almost exclusively female, Latina, and queer-identified. At only six minutes long, this film was probably the most inventively directed of the group, using split screen, sometimes even dividing the image in three screens, to address the issue of boundaries -- what keeps people apart and how they come together.
Sian Heder directed "Mother" for the AFI Directing Workshop for Women and got amazing performances out her actors, including twin one-year old girls. One of the few movies that didn't directly deal with romantic love, "Mother" was surprisingly effective and moving.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Mary Wigmore co-directed the most commercial of the films, "Dealbreaker," which had a laugh out loud moment and a predictable ending appropriate for a romantic comedy. While the two-minute "Girl Meets Boy," directed by Grace Lee, utterly confounded the usual romantic comedy stereotypes very effectively. ("Dealbreaker" is available for free download at ITunes. It's 13 minutes long.)
"The Danish Poet," directed by Torill Kove was probably the most popular film of the evening, using animation and the warm voice of Liv Ullmann to tell a whimsical fable about love and destiny. Here the tone of the script meshed beautifully with the more quirky animation, fusing into a story that felt timeless. Short film maven Kim Adelman predicted that it would be nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Film, so keep your eyes peeled, and see it if you can.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Type in the name of a musical artist you like, and Pandora creates a radio station based on the type of music that artist makes. I typed in "Neil Finn," creator of Crowded House and genius solo artist, and sure enough, Pandora kicked in with a song of his called "One All." A message appeared saying that the next song would be of a similar structure and type. So now I'm nodding my head to a song called "Back to the Sunrise" by a group called The Folk Implosion. I've never heard of them, but I like them! Next up, "I've got a Flair" by Fountains of Wayne, a group I know thanks to my friend Brian. And sure thing - I like 'em. This rules! I could create another custom radio station by clicking on a button and typing in another artist. Let's do it.
So, I typed in The Clash, and a live version of "London's Burning" is now rocking my speakers. Click a fast forward button and I get "Pictures in the Mirror" by a group called The Living End. I like it! If I didn't, I could fast forward again to the next song of similar type.
This is far better than Amazon.com's feeble recommendations. My vote for the easiest way to find new music. Now if they could only do it for books...
Monday, January 08, 2007
The Onion calls Children of Men "A heart-breaking, bullet-strewn valentine to what makes us human." I couldn't agree more. The best movies of 2006 helped remind us of our humanity, our connection to each other, and how fragile that connection can be. Here's my list, in no particular order. Keep in mind, I didn't see Babel, Apocalypto, Borat, The Queen, L'Enfant, Shortbus, or Pan's Labyrinth.
Children of Men - Director Alfonso Cuaron turns a heart pounding action film into a moving, funny, harrowing tour de force. Clive Owen is an action hero for the new millenium, one who never picks up a gun.
Volver - Almodovar's best, and that's saying something. Part noir, part comedy, part tragedy, this film peeks into a fascinating family of women and how their connections to each other have made them what they are.
Little Miss Sunshine - Not perfect, but funny, sweet, and inspirational in a low key way that Hollywood never gets right. This low budget film proves Steve Carrell is not only a hilarious comedian, he's a great actor.
The Departed - Almost great Scorsese is better than just about anything else on screen. It's the supporting actors here that shine brightest - a filthy-mouthed Mark Wahlberg, a heavy-footed Alec Baldwin, and fatherly Martin Sheen. Check out the scene where the two actors sit silently on either end of the phone with each other for over a minute. That's good filmmaking.
Army of Shadows - Brilliant, depressing, and very French. See review below.
Little Children - Humdrum suburban life and the unexpected drama that can intrude when a pedofile moves into the neighborhood. I never thought I'd be so happy to see a romance fail as the one concocted between Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson.
I know there are more good ones out there. I'll post if I get inspired.