Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Someone has sketched a dying animal into the outline of my limbs.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Focus on Female Directors

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

Pandora's Box o' Music

Was checking out my pal Wendee's blog, The Digital Fridge Door, and saw that under her "Music I'm Listening To" list she said something about Pandora. So I clicked and found a very cool, free service started by something called the Music Genome Project. http://www.pandora.com/

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

Best Movies of 2006

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.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Best Depressing Film of 2006

Jean-Pierre Mellville, veteran of the French Resistance and director of "Army of Shadows" said "The war period was awful, horrible... marvelous." This sums up his film, one of the most pitch dark movies you will ever see. Here, complete dedication to a cause, no matter how just, leads inevitably to the loss of your soul.
First released in 1969 in France, but never in America, this bleakest of films was finally distributed to a few lucky art houses in 2006. Decades after he made the film, Melville said, "Don't forget that there are more people who didn't work for the Resistance than people who did." Watching this film, you can't forget it. As life goes on with a semblance of normality around them, grizzled, desperate men struggle against their Nazi occupiers, committing terrible and heroic acts in what becomes an exercise of totaly futility. It's a film of long silences, of loaded glances, and the streets of Paris populated only by German soldiers. It's a masterpiece.
But after you've seen it, go out and have a drink with your friends. Try to find some joy or meaning in life, or this film may just convince you there's no such thing.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Christmas at the Beach

It's difficult to convey the beauty of Bellows Beach if you haven't been there. Yeah, I've posted about the place before. It's the spot on earth where I am happiest, so it'll probably come up again.
I went to Bellows twice while I was in Hawaii for Christmas. The weather was spectacular, the water oddly clear and calm. While huge waves drove amateurs from the ocean on the North Shore, Bellows sported only a calm breeze, short waves suitable for bodysurfing, and clear water, warm and silky against the skin. It's not often you can see the bottom just before you catch a wave. Normally the wave action churns up the sand too much, so even though the water is a friendly blue, it's opaque. Not this time. I could see every one of my pinky white toes resting on the sand as I waited for the next wavelet.
In spite of the small waves, I caught a bunch of rides. Kama'ainas sporting real tans bobbed around me, fruitlessly paddling their boogie boards toward the shore. Teens on surfboards and one dude in a kayak angled and struggled to get moving, rolling backwards off the waves unstead of settling into the barrel in that sweet zone of roiling foam and forward momentum.
I zoomed past them.
Thing is, I look like a tourist - all pale skin and red hair. But once I get in the water, I'm a bodysurfing demon. I rule these tiny waves.