Archive for the 'Film' Category

Ice Age 3: Bits from the Premiere

I’ve been a fan of Blue Sky Studios since Bunny so it was a great thrill to score tickets to the premiere of their latest: Ice Age 3. But that thrill came with a certain amount of fear. After all, the last film in the series is easily the team’s worst and the first Ice Age, while a great introduction to a promising new studio, didn’t quite live up to their Academy Award winning roots.

So when the first act of Dawn of the Dinosaurs threatened to feature Sid (the Ice Age equivalent of Jar Jar Binks) prominently, I got worried. But here’s the thing: this time I didn’t hate him. And as soon as Simon Pegg’s deranged Buck hits the screen, IA3 never looks back — the trip he leads into the dinosaur underground zips from one rollicking action set piece to the next, with just enough character and story to hold it all together. And some of his key character sequences (take the map drawing in the sand) give goosebumps. Then it hit me: with its newest feature, Blue Sky has found its voice.

That’s why saying IA3 is no Pixar film is a compliment. The reason Dawn of the Dinosaurs feels so self assured is (save a few plot points that read like focus group requirements) it doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is. And that’s a fabulous update of the classic Looney Tune, with a level of cleverness to which other studios (coughDreamworkscough) can only aspire. That’s Blue Sky’s strike zone, and it seems like they know it.

It was with a bit of irony that I dressed up to go see Scrat, but in a way it makes sense. After all, as Scrat goes so does Blue Sky, and suffice to say his IA3 bookends don’t disappoint. Plus it was great fun to ride the waves of giddy enthusiasm as the folks who made the movie saw it end to end for the first time. Let’s hope the box office rewards them.

What Slumdog Millionaire Ain’t

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire ain’t what you think. Brilliant and harsh, Boyle’s flicks tend to leave you feeling a bit damaged (see Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). And given that Slumdog focuses on India’s crushingly poor slum kids, you’d expect similar — particularly since films like Born into Brothels have calibrated expectations.

It’s anything but. There may be down moments, but the relentless pace hardly lets you linger. We meet gangsters, take kaleidoscopic trips down slum alleys, witness family trauma. But throughout it all there is a pervasive sense of hope. It’s clear that Danny fell in love with India; he captures it so well. In a recent interview, he put it this way:

You go there, and it’s buzzing. The extremes you get are incredible! You cannot believe what you’re getting on film because you don’t go anywhere that’s boring. The city’s just exploding somehow. Destroying itself and re-creating itself at the same moment—the buzz you get off it! (more)

And halfway through the flick I realized what had happened. Boyle hasn’t just fallen in love with India, he’s fallen in love with Indian cinema. When I’m on travel, I make sure to catch local cinema and India’s is special: Bollywood (the largest film industry in the world by ticket sales) is all about crowd pleasers. That means a whole lot of gangster flicks and love stories (often both together), punctuated by singing and dancing that puts western music videos to shame.

You mock it at first but it quickly becomes contagious. And I think fans of Boyle’s previous films might find Slumdog just the same. You start out hating it for what it isn’t, but end up loving it for what it is. I dare anyone not to smile at the closing credits (you’ll see what I mean). And in doing so, you aren’t just falling in love with Slumdog, you’re falling in love with Bollywood, too. More of that, please.

Find more Slumdog Millionaire at Fox Searchlight. Oh, and did I mention the Slumdog soundtrack is absolutely fantastic? Shimmering, pulsing beats match the hyperkinetic visuals blow for blow. It’s criminally absent from Amazon. That better get fixed soon.

A Jihad for Love: Being Gay in the Muslim World

Is it easier to be gay in the Muslim world than straight? In Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for its adherence a puritanical strain of Islam, it’s forbidden to mix with an unrelated person of another gender. That makes dating straight near impossible but dating gay quite easy, even undetectable (within limits). A gay man in the Atlantic’s Kingdom in the Closet put it this way: “It’s a lot easier to be gay than straight here. If you go out with a girl, people will start to ask her questions. But if I have date upstairs and my family is downstairs, they won’t even come up.” It’s a fascinating turnabout of expectation.

And that got me wondering: What does it mean to be a gay Muslim? First time director Parvez Sharma set out to an answer just that question, and 5.5 years + 12 countries later he’s painted a study in contrasts: from relatively moderate Turkey to fundamentalist Iran to the the opening scenes with Muhsin Hendricks, South Africa’s openly gay Imam.

We watch a group of young Iranian men flee their homeland for safety in Canada. We meet Mazen, a member of the Cairo 52, and hear his stories of being tried and imprisoned simply for his sexual orientation. We travel with lesbian couple Ferda and Klymet as Klymet meets mom-in-law for the first time.

But more than anything we see people searching for acceptance — from family, the law, their religion. And, particularly in the last case, we see so many of them denied. Time Out New York asks the question perhaps many of us have:

Why would gay Muslims stay true to a religion that hurts them? Shots of beautiful mosques and kneeling supplicants pad out a brief running time that still feels too long because we’ve already heard of the abuses; Islam’s strict social censures are not news. Sharma forgets to push his subjects to a deeper truth — not on the courage to recognize one’s self and bear the consequences, but to leave dead things behind.

But that fundamentally misses the point of the film. What Sharma does brilliantly is show why Islam is very much alive in the hearts of his subjects — the calls to prayer, the value of family, the deeply held teachings of Muhammad, the beautiful writings on paper. If anything, the film shows us why it is so difficult, so painful for gay Muslims to make just that choice — the intractable choice between earthen love and love for God. And it shows why the work of people like Muhsin Hendricks, the gay Imam working to reconcile homosexuality and Islam, is so important.

The real power of A Jihad for Love, though, comes in quieter moments. Words between lovers, a phone call to a mother far away. It’s deeply humanizing. There’s a scene about halfway through the film when Mazen (of the Cairo 52) dons belly dancer garb and dances among his friends, men and women, gay and straight. The camera lingers on him — we see clear joy in his eyes. It’s a beautiful thing seeing someone express themselves, be themselves, without fear. You see into their soul. And, in showing us that, A Jihad for Love is a special document indeed.

For more, Watch the Trailer. A Jihad for Love is showing exclusively at the IFC Center in NYC, but it really deserves to open wider. We last connected with gay issues over at GayGamer.

Why Darth Went Dark

Annie, are you OK? Not particularly. I’m out at the Javits Center attending Virtual Worlds 2008 and run into this. Genius.

While the “break glass and use” light sabers showing up in bus stops around NYC are hugely clever and the “Chewbacca: the Original Wingman” ads have a lowbrow appeal, this one has to be my favorite. Hey, maybe I will watch Star Wars for the 2000th time after all.

Disney’s First Black Princess Takes Shape

Boy does this early shot from The Princess and the Frog make me smile. We’ve known for a while that Disney was at work on an animated film with their first black princess, but it’s another thing to see her in the flesh. And it’s nice to see them revive their fine tradition of hand animation (just four years ago they said they were permanently abandoning the technique) for this kind of first.

Of course, the road here has not been without a certain amount of controversy (Disney has been pretty responsive). And lots of questions still remain. Will voodoo be presented in a realistic or stereotypical light? Will the characters find the right balance between overly PC sterility and obnoxious caricature? How will it deal with the racial issues of the time (1920s)? This is a tough one both because it hasn’t been done before and because there are so many eyes on it.

Still, you have to applaud the Mouse House for taking the risk. After all, when you’re designing new characters, the easy road is to stick with what works culturally. We know white characters work. And it sure seems like Disney hasn’t exactly been comfortable with black characters. (I mean how else could you explain Lion King spending an entire film in Africa without ever encountering a person?) Under Disney’s new stewardship (read Pixar), that’s changing. Who better than the folks who gave us the Incredibles’ fabulous Frozone?

Considering Princess and the Frog is set in New Orleans, I hope Disney does it right. Those folks deserve it. I mentioned that Disney is returning to its old animation technique for this film. One could read that as the studio saying: “we wish we had given you a black princess sooner.” If that’s their frame of mind, I imagine things will turn out all right.

Find more Princess and the Frog at Wikipedia and FirstShowing.

Crank Defibrillates Your Face

New York, Tokyo, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap in one week (see the trip). Man, I was a vegetable. And that’s what I blame for the moment of weakness that had me sit down and watch a little 2006 movie called Crank one weary night.

Let’s get something out of the way straight away: Crank is moronic. Could a Jason Statham film about a guy given a “high tech Chinese cocktail” that will stop his heart if he doesn’t keep the adrenaline pumping be anything else? (I mean, why not just put a bullet in the guy’s head?)

It’s all guns and explosions and running around in a hospital robe screaming, with nary a plot in sight. It’s boxing matches with a guy who just had his hand severed by an axe. Mindless testosterone pours from every orifice.

But, unfortunately, that’s also what makes it awesome. There’s no pretense, no complex hero backstory, no international intrigue, no damsel in distress. And the visuals have a hyperkinetic cleverness typically reserved for the best music videos. (The bit that conveys a ridiculous crash by showing only shots of the road is worth the price of admission alone.) I haven’t laughed so hard at full velocity senseless violence since Evil Dead 2.

Crank, then, is a special kind of stupid and, well, a special kind of genius, too. Can’t wait to hear more from creators Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.

Watch the trailer and find more Crank at Wikipedia.

Coen Bros. Country

How do you know you’re in NYC? You go to see the new Coen brothers movie, it’s on the biggest screen in the house (imax), and it’s sold out bigtime (standing room) — even with Hollywood behemoths like Bee Movie and American Gangster under the same roof. The Coens own this town like few others, and that’s dedication considering they haven’t made a satisfying film in over 10 years.

“It’s a right big mess, ain’t it sheriff?” “If it ain’t, it’ll do ’till the mess gets here.” That early dialog between Tommy Lee Jones and his deputy sums up No Country for Old Men. But mess is what the Coens do best and, though it isn’t quite the triumphant return to early-90’s form I’d hoped for, it certainly is their best movie in a really long time. (I’m a Miller’s Crossing/Barton Fink man myself though I still do have a soft spot for Crimewave — ahh Coens and Raimi together with Brion James.) That’s because, like my favorite non-fiction mystery Capturing the Friedmans, No Country leaves you with as many questions as answers. Fabulously so. The dialog crackles like old times, Javier Bardem is just terrifically evil, and did I mention that nearly every shot is flat gorgeous?

Emerging from the press hubub surrounding the film are some tasty bits about Coens’ secretive process and some lovely images. In a discussion on NPR, Josh Brolin (who would have thought he’d survive that wooden turn in Hollow Man?) explains why working with the Coens is like visiting Mars:

The perception of the Coens is that they’re so quirky, you look at their movies, they’re iconoclasts and they do what they want to do — which is all true — but the reality is that there’s not a lot of talk that goes on on the set. I think all their anxiety goes into who they’re gonna cast, so once they cast you they kind of let it go after we’ve had our initial talks to do what you want to do. But I can’t imagine two directors working together without a fight or an argument or at least “can you please let me finish” but it never happened once. They finish each other’s sentences. If one has an idea, the other will go “okay that’s great let’s try that.” That’s the rarity. That’s the Mars part. (atc)

Considering it’s been so long since the boys from Minnesota made a film up to their old standards, it’s pretty apropos that the Times chose now to do an homage — a great photo set of recreated scenes from their films featuring the original actors. Fun, moody, gorgeously shot stuff that brings back memories of classic movie moments. (article here)

The Coens have always been an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery. But now they’ve made us care again. Just like old times, boys. Arizona rides once more.

Visit No Country for Old Men and find more Coens at Wikipedia

Tekkon Kinkreet’s Stunning Animated City

Tekkon Kinkreet has the most stunning realization of an imaginary city I’ve seen since Blade Runner. And that pisses me off. But let’s start from the beginning.

A film adaptation of the underground hit manga Black & White, Tekkon Kinkreet (a Japanese pun on steel reinforced concrete and deep relationships) will have your jaw on the floor from the first frame and pretty much never lets up. Treasure City is flat out gorgeous and just teems with architectural detail that at once feels whimsical yet quite real. When the camera moves through the world, you want to savor every second. As far as environmental design goes, the production just nails it.

And, honestly, the city really has to breathe for the movie to work since the entire story hinges on it. In typical anime mumbo-jumbo, the story goes like this:

Black and White, two street urchins, battle an array of old-word Yakuza and alien assassins vying to rule the decaying metropolis of Treasure Town – where the moon smiles and young boys can fly. (imdb)

Despite how it sounds, the narrative sticks surprisingly close to earth. Contrast that with Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, which also visited the US this year. Where Paprika’s fantastic environs led it off the deep end in the last quarter of the film, Tekkon’s do much the opposite — they ground it. Giving much more would ruin things, but let’s just say TK feels closer to Satoshi’s more intimate (and better) film Tokyo Godfathers.

So, what pissed me off? Well, I had the chance to see Tekkon in the theater. Heck, I have a photo to prove it. But I slacked off (well, I saw the even more elusive Colma instead) and I’m now left wondering how those massive vistas might play on the big screen. Considering the box office take, it seems like I’ll likely never know. Bugger.

Find more Tekkon Kinkreet at Sony Pictures and peek behind the scenes at PingMag.

images via fps and audrey

DePalma’s Redacted Gets Redacted

Brian DePalma got into quite the public yelling match at the New York Film Festival this week. You see, the producers of Brian’s new film Redacted edited it against his will. Specifically, they put black bars over the eyes of folks in some very central, very real photographs presented therein, claiming the victims’ relatives could sue. DePalma accused them of being tools of the man. And that opened up the whole can of worms regarding use of war photography, stretching back to My Lai and beyond.

On The Media has a fascinating back-and-forth on the subject with legal scholar James Boyle. Discussion of the suppression of the JFK autopsy images and the Challenger space shuttle audio lead to the following exchange:

OTM: These were huge news stories. Why were they protected?

Boyle: Well, I think the argument was that hearing the pain and confusion and fear of people who were about to die adds nothing to the political debate.

OTM: But isn’t that the point of these photographs in DePalma’s case? Misery, fear, mayhem, horror — the very things that have been censored about this war. How can you on the one hand prevent that stuff on that basis and then permit it on the very same basis?

Boyle: If the whole NPR thing doesn’t work out, Brooke, you have a career as a lawyer. I would say that the answer there is that we knew the astronauts on the space shuttle, we knew that they died and it was an awful set of moments. I think that the answer here is that the pain of the Iraqis has not been making it to our screens, has not been making it to our newspapers. I think the claim here is Mr. DePalma is saying this is a necessary political comment.

Of course the question then becomes: what is relevant to the debate and what is just morbid curiosity and, well, what is just there for its entertainment value. Does DePalma’s film have more in common with JFK’s elaborate mythmaking or United 93’s meticulous fact checking? It seems the early critics are coming in right down the middle. Either way, it looks like Hollywood is going to take more than one high-profile stab at the Wag the Dog nightmare in Iraq. Surely we can all hope there is some way to honor the memories of those lost even as popular culture uses their images to raise awareness but, if the Redacted mess makes anything clear, it’s that balance sure ain’t easy.

Hear the whole Boyle interview (and Brian DePalma, too) at On The Media and visit the Redacted website.

image via

Ukraine’s Floating Castle

Found object: floating castle. Photos of a mysterious levitated structure that looks straight out of a fantasy film showed up recently, and much speculation followed. Where was it? Was it a sculpture? Had the photoshop corps been at work again?

Some judicious automated translator banging (most of the conversation is in Russian, Spanish, and Ukranian) yielded a few tidbits. The photographer, for example, says it was dismantled in May of this year. And it was in Ukraine. Archinect says it’s the remains of “bunker for the overload of mineral fertilizers.”

But what I find most interesting are the connections people made between the structure and film worlds created by Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and, most often, Hayao Miyazaki — particularly Howl’s Moving Castle. I never quite understood what went on in that film. (A couple friends from Japan didn’t either, so I’m guessing it’s not a cultural thing.) Still, the characters and the world were so strong that it nearly didn’t matter.

And the fact that so many want to see Miyazaki’s world in the real one says something about the places his films create. Lots of animated films let us escape into wonderful imaginary places. But there’s something special about Miyazaki’s movies that makes the real world seem more wonderful, too.

Find alternate angles and multilingual conversation at panoramio. Thanks to ffffound.

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