Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Close to his 18th birthday and living in a tiny apartment with his divorced Dad, Wes is tortured by his virginity. After getting fired for beating off at work, he befriends Dusty, an older neighbor who writes for porn mag Dear Pillow. (Sorry dude, those letters aren’t real.) Becoming an earnest writer himself and avid listener of other peoples’ sex phone calls, Wes partners up with Dusty and gets into the nasty world. Eventually the two start hanging out with the sexy apartment manager Lorna, and things get seedy, perhaps too fast for Wes.
Pillow has minimal production elements, no flash, just story. It excels in the tone and acting, with great realistic touches by cast members Rusty Kelley, Gary Chason and Viviane Vives. All bring their roles to life in a smart script by writer/director Bryan Poyser. So when the real and porn worlds start to clash, the plot stays believable. You start to feel like you are intruding into their conversations. The faraway porn world could be just next door. Thankfully it never reaches sensationalism. Whether that’s good or bad for you, its best for the film.
DVD has cool extras, with deleted scenes, audition tapes, commentary by Poyser and producer/cinematographer/editor Jacob Vaughan and the actors, and two solid short films by Poyser, Grammy’s (2007) and Pleasureland (2001). Released by Heretic Films, $19.95.
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Sunday, November 18, 2007
A compilation of videos/short films for the legendary "band" Negativland, made by themselves with collaborators. One of a few pioneers of culture jamming - attacking the notions of copyright laws and media conglomerates - Negativland has made incredible new songs from existing audio of songs and voice samples, ranging from U2 and irate wanna-be lawyers to the unforgettable bootlegged tape of Casey Kasem freaking out off-air. Their shorts also display their knack for reworking existing media to great detail, combining world terror with religion and Disney. As political as they are humorous, Negativland is more important than most popular bands with original material. As Other Cinema puts it: "What emerges is a darkly cracked look at 21st century America, juxtaposing paranoia, torture, control, power, weapons, fear, suicide, cola wars, mental illness, and intellectual property issues with the lighter side of dopey advertising, cartoon characters, cleaning products and Jesus."
3 hrs of footage! Their original videos, extras and a music CD - 180 D’Gs To the Future! (covers of Negativland songs done by the Gospel R & B Doo-Wop group, The 180-Gs). The thick extras are "At Home With The Weatherman", The Long Lost “Visit Howland Island”, the KPIX News Ax Murder Hoax Broadcast and Jon Behren’s “Anomalies Of The Unconscious” - that makes one of the better DVD releases of the year by itself.
available now, released by Other Cinema DVD for $24.95.
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So Yong Kim's intimate debut feature about a young teenage Korean girl who tries to adapt to American life and the separation of her parents has been beloved by many since it premiered at Sundance in 2006 (the film caught our attention back then as well, as we named Kim one of our "25 New Faces of Independent Film" in '06). Shot handheld on DV with no score, the film uses its guerilla mentality to put complete focus on its two main characters, Aimie (Jiseon Kim) and her friend Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), a Korean teen who's a little more Americanized than Aimie. Rarely does Kim ever use a wide shot in the film, instead, tight close-ups or two-shots give the viewer an eavesdropping feel as we follow these two through their daily lives of daydreaming through class, stealing car radios, exploring sex, jealousy and the tension of trying to express their feelings.
Kim has said that the Aimie character was inspired from her teenage years growing up in the L.A. suburbs. Raised by a single mom, there was a sense of separation when it came to talking about love. In the film, Aimie very much wants to display this feeling, especially to her father back home in South Korea. Throughout the film a voiceover of Aimie to her father (we presume she's writing a letter to him, but it's never clear) reveals this as she asks him when they will see each other again and if he still loves her.
The performances by Kim and Kang, who never acted before this film, are surprisingly well done as So Yong Kim successfully portrays how it is not only to be a teenager, but the isolation of being an immigrant as well.
Only extra is an interview with Kim and producer/co-writer Bradley Rust Gray. But it includes a funny stories on how they found Kang for the Tran character and the on-set tiffs between the two leads.
Kino releases the DVD tomorrow for 29.95.
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Monday, November 12, 2007
Winner of the 2007 Slamdance Grand Prize for Best Narrative Feature, Dylan Verrechia's look across the border is as much reality as it is fiction. Set in Tijuana, the film follows 14-year-old Indio (Pablo Tendilla Ortiz) as he journeys to become a man. I love the film's synopsis on its MySpace page, so I'll just quote directly.
"Every man remembers how hard it is being 14 years old: Your voice is cracking, your hormones are raging, school is boring, the girl you love is a young prostitute who won't go out with you because you don't have enough cash so you start smuggling drugs across the border in order to save enough money to buy a rooster so you can enter a cockfight and win her love. It's a tale as old as time itself."
Instead of making a preachy socially conscience film about the infamous border town and its impoverished residents, Verrechia decides instead to express these issues in a more lighthearted way. But using non-actors (Tijuana redisents) and handheld shooting (the film can easily be mistaken for a documentary in some places), it gives a legitimacy to what's taking place rather than a traditional means of narrative storytelling, which could have made it campy. That's some of the fun to the film, you don't know what's staged and what's real.
Outside of its realistic look of Tijuana, the film is really a father/son tale, as Jhonny (Pablo Tendilla Rocha, Ortiz's real father) struggles to raise Indio by himself while attempting to live his own life. Proving family is a universal theme, regardless what side of the border you're on.
The film hits streets this week through Phoenix Entertainment for $19.99.
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An “independent” film is only so if it is independent minded. The most scrappy, handheld, no-budget, shot on stolen location, non-actors playing realistic characters can still reiterate the status quo and be dull and pointless. John Huston made more independent films than most and those were studio movies with Academy Award winning cast and crew. John Cassavetes tried for a year to fix the shitty sound on his first feature. Lynne Ramsay and Jim Jarmusch still shoot on film. The films by these directors are independent in their guts, not their tools.
Jean-Luc Godard is independent because his films have soul.
A unique film when it was made, Breathless has been ripped-off for decades. (as Criterion puts it: “There was before Breathless, and there was after Breathless.”) Still enjoyable for its landmark style; jump cuts within long takes, handheld camerawork, switching between documentary-style drama and Hollywood genre… its crazy but the film is still fresh almost 50 years later. The camerawork is gorgeous, handheld but flowing. No-light film still looks better than video. The editing doesn’t confuse you, it allows you to think.
Breathless is an independent classic in style, but more so in form. A film about people treading love, slipped into a crime story with no blood but a bombastic, wonderful genre soundtrack. Jean-Paul Belmondo will win every man, woman and child over as the lovable but unlucky small-time car thief. His amour Jean Seberg isn’t sure she wants him but keeps him around. She spawned a look and free attitude that is still being strived for today. In the film it looks effortless. A film breathless in beauty and love, and a breathless crime drama.
Extras extra extras. Interviews (from the 60s) with director Jean-Luc Godard, and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, and director Jean-Pierre Melville, who has a cameo in the film, are short but really great time capsules. New video interviews with cinematographer Raoul Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient, and filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker are longer and solid. New video essays by filmmaker and critic Mark Rappaport (on Jean Seberg) and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum ("Breathless as Film Criticism") reference earlier notes by both but are essential to this collection. The trailer is amazing as expected, and see where the Godard-Belmondo dynamic duo started with the 1959 short film Charlotte et son Jules. The dvd booklet has cool writings from Godard.
Two more things – they have redone the subtitles to better reflect the slang of the original dialogue. This is great, as subtitles often end up as strict English translation and you have to hope the voices carry the meaning often ruined in the process. And a big extra is a feature doc on the film, Chambre 12, Hotel de suede, an eighty-minute French documentary about the making of Breathless, with members of the cast and crew. Those interviews are great. But you will have to jump over the hurdle of the constant onscreen presence of the doc’s host/filmmaker. Somehow they worked the making-of the doc into the doc itself. Overall this 2-disc set is as great as you’d expect.
Available now from Criterion Collection, $39.95, cheaper from their website.
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Monday, November 5, 2007
In the opening scene of Four Sheets to the Wind, a twenty-something guy gently pushes the lifeless body of an old man into a lake. Beautiful and more subtle than it sounds, this sets the tone for the story of a young man wanting to find a new world.
Cody Lightning does a wonderful job portraying Cufe, who finds his father has taken a lethal overdose of pills. After respecting his father’s wishes of a lake burial, then putting on a fake funeral for everyone else, Cufe decides its time to hit big city Tulsa and try a new landscape for a while. Moving in with his partying sister (Tamara Podemski), he bumps into her cute neighbor girl (Laura Bailey) who may be the best thing that’s happened to him.
Equal parts drama, comedy and romance, the film’s very modest production lets the solid script shine through. The characters are Native American, as is talented writer/director Sterlin Harjo, a member of the Seminole and Creek nations. He has said the film is not autobiographical, but the story has a realistic feel.
Why does Cufe want to leave his hometown? Besides his father passing away, his mother has an old friend around who tries to relate by describing himself as a “half-breed.” His shrink lets him he know he has dated Indian girls himself. His sister, trying to find fun in partying, has a boyfriend who makes Indian jokes. All of this atmosphere helps Cufe starts to fall for the neighbor girl – she’s the only one who doesn’t make any Native references and just talks to him like a person. Well, and she’s really cute and cool.
The film premiered at Sundance 2007 after going through their filmmaking workshops. The acting by everyone in the film is great – staying subtle and realistic. The small romance works as it’s not an indie film about singles in Manhattan, nor a forced courtship between megastar actors. Although it benefits from the interesting Native American background, it is really a film about people trying to adapt with change while keeping family ties together. This could be any young man leaving his home looking for understanding, and is really universal.
Available Nov 6, released by First Look Pictures, $26.98.
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Friday, November 2, 2007
Part loving art-doc recreation, part comedic musical, Interkosmos may be the best communist propaganda since 1955, a genre that excelled in style and mathematic form. It revels in the Russian avant-garde cinematics that bled into its bombastic government documentaries. Once some human issues come up (birds and bees and astronauts), the film gets realistic and funny. Although you are never quite sure what filmmaker Jim Finn takes seriously, alternating between laughs and existentialist atmosphere, as if it was a predecessor to the new Daft Punk film Electronoma.
Following the space exploits of cosmonauts Seagull and Falcon, East Germans on their way to conquer moons of Jupiter and Saturn, Interkosmos blends the deadpan but beautiful vibes of newreels, NASA static drone cameras – and actual musical sequences with a drill team – to a great new film that’s almost educational. The feature started out as a sequel to one of Finn’s short films about a gerbil, hoping to send the little guy in space. The film kept growing until humans in spacesuits and dance numbers were added. It would win art direction awards if film fests had them. The music is original but drawn from 70s German pop and real communist morale boosting riffs. There’s even exit music. The scenes and dialogue are also new but inspired by real training films.
While its perfect for film fest crowds and art fans who’s temple is the Museum of Jurassic Technology’s oil painting lounge dedicated to the Russian rocket dogs who did not return from space, Interkosmos could also play on PBS. And I seriously, seriously want it to play to Russian audiences over 50 – can anyone make this happen?
DVD available now from Facets Video, 24.95 capitalist-pig dollars.
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