November 28, 2010

After lots of family and food and on-the-go Thanksgiving-ness (that I am thankful for), I was ready for a change of pace last night.

I cooked a steak, accompanied by baked potato, Brussels sprouts (don’t grimace, I love them) with carrots, and a nice bottle of wine.  I prepared to watch Last of the Mohicans, which I’ve had out ready to go for several weeks just because I’ve been aching a bit to see it again.  (I love that movie and haven’t seen it for several years.)

So, why did I turn on the TV just to see what was on instead of popping in the planned DVD?  Why did I watch Something’s Gotta Give on AMCHD with commercials?!?!

I don’t know why, but I did.  After all, I try to avoid shows with commercials unless I have DVRed them so I can zip through the breaks.

But, I think last night I just wanted to watch something easy.  It’s a romantic comedy with a lead I can relate to on one or two levels (though not her fabulous house!).  Maybe that’s what pulled me in?  Or, maybe it’s just that we all like to dream sometimes about how it would feel for everything to work out…




November 28, 2010

I’ll start with the one I like the least.  Waiting for Superman is very entertaining, beautifully shot, and highly manipulative.  Not surprising because Davis Guggenheim is best known for An Inconvenient Truth, which I liked but would not classify as subtle!

Actually, Waiting for Superman reminded me of Bowling for Columbine, in the sense that Michael Moore threw out a lot of narrative dots but didn’t really connect them.  Waiting for Superman is certainly engaging as it shows kids from around the country trying to get accepted into high-performing charter schools where there are many more applicants than seats, but the film is fueled by what I consider to be a major deceit.

The fact that these charter schools are outliers is glossed over.  Most charter schools do not perform at significantly higher levels than public schools, so the net result is that director Davis Guggenheim gives us a reductive look at the problems plaguing education in America.

Go see it.  Decide what you think.  Join the discussion about public education.

My favorite recent documentary is The Tillman Story.  This is a terrific film.  It’s rated R for language, but this is a colorful family with a penchant for salty language.  The film examines the life of NFL player Pat Tillman who left football to enlist in the military and went on to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan before he was killed by friendly fire, a fact that was initially covered up by the military until his family – especially his mother – fought relentlessly to learn the truth.  Tillman’s mother is one of my new heroes.

The Tillman Story inspires me – makes me want to go out and make a good film about a tough subject.  That also goes for Inside Job.

Charles Ferguson looks at the causes and effects of the recent financial meltdown.  We all know it was a mess, but Inside Job provides a lot of context to what many of us consider dry and complicated issues, and Ferguson does it with surprising clarity and creativity.

Inside Job is sure to make a bunch of people angry – those would be people who have benefitted disproportionately from recent financial policies and practices as well as the rest of us who have paid for the excesses of others.  The film is extremely well-crafted.




November 28, 2010

A recommendation from me one way or the other won’t make a difference in the box office, but I don’t mind weighing in on the latest Harry Potter pic.  I enjoyed it, but I enjoy all of the films.  They’re fun.  Not great.  Not especially memorable.  But, they are fun.

I read the books breathlessly when they came out.  They made me feel like the 11-or-so-year-old bookworm that I was eager to lose myself (and paradoxically invent myself) inside the pages.  Although the films don’t have the same power over me as the books, I do see the movies as a fun accompaniment that reminds me how much I enjoyed the books.

The first time I stayed up reading all night long to finish a book was when I was about 11, I think.  The book was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  It was the first of many such all-nighters, though I can’t recall the last one!




November 20, 2010

The movie is based on the popular 1975 play For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, which is really a series of poems performed by different women characters.

Though I have not seen the play performed, but I have seen several of Tyler Perry’s movies.

I like what he’s trying to do, or what I think he’s trying to do – and I certainly like seeing black actors in meaty roles – but the broad humor and melodrama of Perry’s films erases all subtlety and employs too many clichés.  I think those elements diminish the power of his stories and limit his audience.

When I say that I sort of like what he’s trying to do, I mean two things.  First, I like that he is making films about black experience.  There’s not much of that on the big screen.  Second, there are times when Perry’s exercises in melodrama and artificiality make me think a little about the 50s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, films like Imitation of Life, and I’m crazy about Sirk’s movies for their subversion just beneath the glossy surface.  The subtext makes those films so rich.

In the movie For Colored Girls, I enjoy the performances of actors like Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Devine, and more, but the characters are somewhat one-dimensional.

I don’t recommend this film for a general audience.  I think there are many people who may find it therapeutic because of some of their personal experiences, and I also think that cultural critics like me should see it to know what’s out there and how audiences are responding to it, but, on the other hand, I think there are other viewers who will not relate to the film and, in fact, will be put off by its melodrama.




Simon Tarr film showcase @ WFU

November 9, 2010


Simon Tarr

November 9, 2010

Simon Tarr

The Art Department and the Documentary Film Program at Wake Forest University are co-sponsoring a screening of two short films by my friend Simon Tarr tomorrow night (Wednesday, November 10th).   See Tia Mak and Giri Chit at 7 p.m. in Annenberg Forum on the first floor of Carswell Hall.

Simon Tarr, who will be available to answer questions following the screening, is an American independent filmmaker who specializes in digital experimental animation and new media art.  He has made eleven short films, two features, and has given live VJ performances around the world.

He teaches in the Department of Art at the University of South Carolina and is the 2010 recipient of the University Film and Video Association Teaching Award for achievement in pedagogy that contributes to the field of film and video education.

Tia Mak (17 minutes) is a VJ performance that remixes the classic documentary Nanook of the North into an avant-garde, pre-apocalyptic rock and roll show.

Giri Chit (14 minutes) tells an epic tale that begins with a worker driving a mobile sweeper in hypnotic circles across an already immaculate surface in Japan with a cast of thousands toiling hundreds of feet above the street.

The event is free and open to the public.








November 8, 2010

A/perture and RiverRun have teamed up to offer the Cineclub, a new screening series offered the second Monday of each month – that means tonight! – for one screening only of films finding success on the festival circuit and independent films programmed to supplement the weekly screenings.

The first film in the series is Howl, which stars James Franco as poet Allen Ginsberg in an unusual biopic that focuses on the time he wrote his long poem of the same name and when his publisher defended it in court over an obscenity suit.

Franco gives a powerful performance as the beat poet, and the strong supporting cast includes Jon Hamm as the defense attorney for Ginsberg’s publisher, David Straithairn as the prosecutor, and Jeff Daniels as a literary critic testifying for the prosecution.

I admire they way Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman – co-writers and co-directors – have crafted the film from court transcripts, interviews, and the Ginsberg’s poems.  I’m more ambivalent about Eric Drooker’s animation for the poems, not the use of animation, which seems fitting, but the look of these sequences.

Howl evokes a time and place with authentic feeling and with a sense of the iconography of the key players, Ginsberg and his friends Jack Keroac and Neal Cassady.  Some people may find the treatment more cerebral than engaging as the film celebrates the writer’s craft, but this is not a problem for me as a viewer.  Poetry is elusive, so why should a film about it be any different?

This one-time only Cineclub screening is at 8 p.m.  Check the a/perture website for details:

Howl is a strong beginning for a promising series.