Broken Circle Breakdown – #bestforeignlanguagefilm

#TheBrokenCircleBreakdown – It Soars! A grand stage to film adaptation.

Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens with the astonishing (not in this shot) Nell Cattrysse.

The weather outside was frightful… to watch a film in a comfy-cozy movie house would be delightful. Fortunately, as Awards season is upon us, at my Art House of choice, The Quad Cinema on 13th between 6th and 5th, a contender in this year’s Oscar Best Foreign Film category was playing. “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” which has to be one of the worst titles in recent history and really put me off, promised nothing, was from Belgium, in Flemish, with sub-titles. A winning combination if I ever heard one.

It is a remarkable film! Multi-layered, character driven and thoroughly absorbing. A love story to stir the blood and touch the heart. It is about family and faith and friendship and sickness and health and death and…life. It is about America …the influence …the lure …and the disappointment. I came out of the theater with a tear in my eye and that warm feeling inside, the kind you get when you’ve seen a film that is really satisfying. I rushed home and on to the Internet. Who was responsible for this very special film…? The director was #FelixVonGroeninger. The screenplay was by Felix Von Groeninger and Carl Joos. Then it jumped out at me. The film had started as a sage play written by Johan Heldenbergh who plays the character Didier in the film. It is a stunning adaptation and the original playwright, Mr. Heldenbergh, was importantly cast as the lead actor. Important too, he did not do his own adaptation. He left it to the film director and another writer experienced in film. Smart move and I’m sure he was close by and involved in all the artistic decisions.

Adaptation is tricky, a form unto itself. One enters carefully, going where angels fear to tread. In adaptation, the original material has to be broken up into its component parts and put back together to fit the new medium, in this case, film. You write for the stage by describing physical and mental energy in a prescribed space, the stage. You write film, (because a camera is always present) based on what is seen as the first consideration then what is heard. There are different responsibilities and techniques involved. The presence of the camera changes everything. A new form has to be found for the screen. You are really writing for the camera and the editor. Cut, stop the film here and pick it up here. The stage play’s form has to be changed in order to remain the same. Not a contradiction. The new form has to retain the same emotional values and strengths that made the stage play interesting but now for a film version. The camera makes all the difference. How it is used, the plan, the blueprint, the visual plotting is what writing for the screen is all about. The abstract choices of what will be seen, strung together in a specific progression creates the flow and substance of the story. It’s like poetry where the visual choreography causes the desired emotional reaction in the audience. It’s what the writer plans for. No explanation is required and none is given. What’s on the screen says it all.

“Broken Circle…,” is told in abstractions. Past and present inform the future as they do in life. We meet Didier, a wonderful rich performance by Johan Heldenbergh, a compelling actor and Elise, played by Veerle Baetens, who deservedly won the Best Actress Award at the Tribeca Festival for her performance; as he brings her to his farm for the first time. Their affair is sudden and lustful, an all out plunge, no holds barred dive into love. She moves into his heart, his home, his life. She is a little woo, faith in fairy tales and the hereafter, a spiritual fantasist. He is smart, pragmatic, a romantic atheist. A here and now, deal with it kind of guy. It’s why he loves America, the land of “can do.” Their intense love veils the cracks in their relationship as long as things are good. The sex is fierce, physical, full of pleasure and real emotion. We see it close up and personal from various angles and experience the intimacy so germane to the story. How did they do this on the stage, in the play? What created the intensity of the closeness between the lovers? Lighting and words can take you only so far. In film the use of the camera makes transitions tangible. The audience always knows where they are and are not disoriented or confused. The camera has done the work for them. Slowly the gaps are filled in.

We see how the couple meet-cute. He sees her tattoos through the window of her tattoo shop. She tries to talk him into a tattoo. What kind? Maybe something to do with Blue Grass. What’s that? There is a concert Friday night he might be there. She goes and is startled to see that he, Didier is the leader of the band, singing and playing the banjo. I was as shocked as she was. This is not the center of Alabama, USA but the outskirts of Ghent, Belgium. A genuine Blue Grass band is playing and singing in an unaffected, perfect sounding American-English, then they speak to each other in Flemish. It is a marvel of sound and substance and, above all else, the best kind of pure entertainment. The music enhances, enriches the story… propelling us on an emotional roller coaster ride. The band acts as a kind of down-home twangy Greek chorus focusing our attention with musical backup, interludes and asides. They provide a wonderful support group and extended family. Their contribution adds to the films impact.

We get it when Elise, influenced by Didier and their life together sings lead with the band. Everything is right with the world and gets even better when their love produces a delicious little daughter, Maybelle. The little girl deepens the couples’ love and their commitment to family and to each other. We see the playfulness, consideration and care they take with one another. How did they create this delightful intimacy, so necessary to the story, on the stage?

I don’t know where they found the pint-sized actress, Nell Cattrysse but she is extroadinary. Five years old when the film was shot and she’s dream casting. Her instincts are pure and a joy. We, the audience, know why it is a family love affair. It’s almost embarrassing to be the silent witness to such bliss. In small observations we watch her grow up to be a six year old, special as only little girls can be, but there are bumps on their road, flashes of illness, an ambulance screaming through the night. We are shocked when we find that Maybelle has a bad cancer. We are relieved when the little charmer seems to be recovering. She returns home and is welcomed by the band. Happiness. The cancer returns. The diagnosis is dire. There is talk of stem cells as a remote possibility but it is not hopeful. Elise and Didier are disconsolate. We feel their suffering. We see George W. Bush on TV veto stem cell research on ethical grounds. Didier is furious, slams the TV off. Sadly the precious little girl dies and the broken family and friends are left to grieve. Who can explain grief? We describe it from the outside but really don’t understand the feeling and depth, the form it takes in Elise and Didier. All the abstractions come together. We watch Didier disintegrate into rage during a performance on stage, ranting at the audience, at America’s Bush, at religion – faith all of the crutches we lean on. He rails at the world, his grief exploding. His daughter Maybelle has died. That is justification for his venom. Perhaps it is the song he and Elise have just finished singing, during which he has watched her intensely, about faith and everlasting love, “The circle will not be broken,” that pushes him over the edge.

Elise, beside herself, nearly out of her mind with grief, tries to calm him. He pulls away leaving her alone in her despair.  Faith has not sustained her. Didier is gone. She is alone and desperate. The flashes we have seen of the ambulance with siren screaming in real time carries Elise to the hospital with a frantic Didier pleading with the medical team to, “not let her go.” Didier is told that Elise is brain dead from the pills and alcohol she took. He goes back to his farm and sits listless in the backyard. His dog chases chickens around the yard. He doesn’t notice. They make a racket and he stares at them intruding on his grief. He watches them and his expression changes. We see it and understand something has happened in his head. The dog and chickens are alive doing what dogs and chickens do. It is a quiet moment of realization that the camera has interpreted for us. How did they create that emotional insight on stage? They didn’t do it with a dog and chickens. How did they give us this insight? We next see Didier in Elise’s hospital room. The medical staff is there. The band stands ready with their instruments. Didier is at the top of the bed with his banjo. He bends low, whispering to Elise “if you see Maybelle tell her I love her,” kisses Elise on the forehead, straightens, nods to the doctor who turns off the infernal machines keeping Elise alive. Didier and the band play Elise out. The End. Exactly right. Life goes on and we go on with it, as best we can, and the circle will be unbroken …joyfully.

The adaptation and the film got it gloriously right. The stage play must have been an entirely different experience. I can only hope that they found a form that was equally as satisfying.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown,” joins, “American Hustle,” as my choices for best films of the year.

 

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ReelTime: The Demented American Dream

In both, #AmericanHustle and #TheWolfofWallStreet,” we recognize the pretenses we practice, some more than others. We want, we want and we want it now, and if we have to we fudge, finesse, finagle and fool to get it. Both films are about – the getting. They are told from different points of view, emphasize different aspects of – the scene – and come up with different conclusions and results.

Leonardo Di Caprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.

With, #WolfofWallStreet” #MartinScorsese has been exposed …de-frocked, seen for what he is… a slickster. His new film is an explosion of exploitation, a grab-bag of infinite foolishness, a hodge podge of pathetic pander, a torrent of romanticized excess. Scorsese gets a loud bang for his $100 million that evaporates right before our eyes. Crap in a shiny, sturdy plastic package is still crap. Mr. Scorsese is no ordinary filmmaker. He flimflam artist experienced, practiced, good at what he does which is make films. That he is one of the best that we have makes it worse. The Emperor has no clothes and the critics glorify his fashions. “Wolf …” has the energy of a raging bull and pounds you into submission. You sit rendered speechless by its capacity for indulgence. Here, Scorsese tops the recent “The Great Gatsby,” the over enthusiastic Buzz Lurhmann version and mixed with the gangster ethic, the filmatic energy of, “Good Fellas,” and the rawness of “Raging Bull,” Scorsese’s staples of his hard headed street smarts and whackedness (goes for the throat and the crotch) to serve today’s instant gratification audience, into his version of Wall Street chaos. When is enough …enough?

For Mr. #Scorsese it seems… never. He shows us the excesses of outrageous behavior and then he shows it to us …again…and…again …and if you are not satisfied or satiated …he shows it to us… again. This is beyond self indulgence. Mr. Scorsese relishes his indulgence. Shoves it in your face. That’s the whole point of the exercise. Raw exploitation of power…drugs and greed. His concern is the manipulation of sex in partnership with the glorification of money, as a partnership to strive for. It’s in his blood. In his chosen sport, moviemaking, women are objects used as throwaway gifts by the winning men. Sell those worthless stocks and fuck all the beautiful compliant women who go with it. To the victor go the spoils. He, the Director, is the master manipulator doing exactly what the charismatic super-salesman is doing to the dupes, dopes, dumb heads who buy his bull shit…in this case buy the tickets.

Here, director and lead actor, played to the hilt by Leonardo Di Caprio are small time operators who have conned themselves into thinking that they are big time dreamers. Their Wall Street scam artist Jordon Belfort spews his mesmerizing rage at his group of believers. They are whipped into a frenzy by his inspired venom to do what … sell penny promises to make him rich …richer … richest. It’s the same kind of arrogant stimulating blather that football coaches use to push their teams on to greater glory. It’s the thunder-bolt tyrant’s bombast to galvanize their craven flock goading them on to ultimate victory. To hypnotize an audience. It’s a parlor trick as old as time. You just have to strike the right notes. Mr. Scorsese wants us to buy his cynical vulgar assault on our society’s deficiencies. What does he tell us about this aside to the human catastrophe? Mr. Scorsese blows his myopia way out of proportion and doesn’t go near the, “big boys,” who really do the damage and much later did bring down Wall Street …and the economy. Instead he shows us a small deal, screwing the marginal man and literally, women, at every turn. The doing is enough … No insight, no consideration or understanding. The screwing is more interesting.

What we are served up in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is pornography ala Martin Scorsese. Bodies heaving, plump, puffed and pampered buttocks rocking. Smooth skin …naked … a graphically arranged orgy. We watch expecting that this might all be going somewhere. Then the unromantic coupling is encored and brought back for curtain calls in all its ardent splendor. We watch objects at play, devoid of human emotions or singular personalities … display dummies not even eye candy anymore, boring in visual performance signifying nothing. Mr. Scorsese in his, “Wolf,” has rendered sex obsolete. His film ends up being nothing more than a dressed up doughnut with a hole in the middle. Leonardo di Caprio, one of the fine actors of our day, is terrific but his performance, like the film, is all surface. We are given no inner life. He goes from one high to another without a moment of hesitation or an idle or inner thought. It’s all pump and romp. He turns himself on and then turns everybody around him on with his dynamic charm and passion. Sell anybody anything and reap the rewards. Money …sex …drugs and who cares who gets hurt. That’s not in the picture. What does he get for all of his grand efforts… his “chickens come home to roost.” Three years in a minimum security prison (with tennis courts no less) for turning in his friends and stealing millions from, “the suckers,”…us. Big price for perverting society’s unmentionables. Life can be beautiful fortified by fairy dust. He ends up, as part of his sentence, not being able to sell stocks anymore …so he sells the selling. In film storytelling terms, handled apologetically. Don’t know how to get out of this plastic bag so here it is…contents and all…have a good night. I watched for 3 hours and 10 minutes to see where he was going … NO Where! I lied about the watching. Some of the time …I cringed. Good thing for me I had also seen, in the same week,  “American Hustle.” It is the best American film I have seen in a long time. Let me augment that, “American Hustle,” is the best film I have seen in a long time.

#AmericanHustle, written by Eric Singer and #DavidO.Russell is David O. Russell’s picture.

The extraordinary actor Christian Bale in American Hustle.

First off let me say how much I enjoyed watching, “Hustle,” with a full house appreciative audience. It was entertaining, funny, smart, imaginative, sexy, compelling, intriguing, thoughtful, surprising and if all of that wasn’t enough, it was also, at key moments, touching.

Mr. Russell caught my eye with, “The Fighter,” then whet my appetite with, “Silver Linings Playbook.” Now we have the full flavor of Mr. Russell’s prodigious talent and sensibility.  With, “Hustle,” we have the full score, the total symphony. It is his opus and it also feels like he is having a grand time.

The writing is terrific and for me it all starts with the screenplay. David O. Russell’s handiwork is apparent as he was contributing to a script that he was going to direct which is the best of all possible worlds. The control and ease of his work reminds us of Hollywood’s Golden Age of Comedy, of Film really, that had context , texture, glamour and grace, and better still, were very funny. I’m thinking Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, among others, who created film stories with a feathery delicious touch. Mr. Russell’s choices are perfection. He handles big stuff … the demented American Dream …money …greed … manipulation … corruption …duplicity but also friendship …relationships …loyalty …family and love. It is just a wonderful ride.

The story is …the American hustle. Ill-gotten gain pried from eager seekers who will gamble, risk anything on the promise of the big score. More for less on a wing and a prayer. The American way. It plays like Jazz, our original art form. While the right hand spins out the melody line, the story, the left hand improvises wonderful shifts and surprises on the main theme …the hustle. The story is told through Irving, a kid from the Bronx who’s father runs a small glass replacing business. Irving breaks a lot of windows. Pop’s business thrives and Irving grows with it. His little scam pays off with a string of dry cleaning stores with an added hustle on the side. You put up a non-returnable $5,000 with the promise of $50,000 when the ship comes in, which of course it never does. Irving has found his calling. He is a natural born hustler. At a friend’s pool party, Irving meets his match in Sydney, a stylish, beautiful survivor, a smart ex-stripper with a glint in her eye and the future on her mind. She and Irving bond over an appreciation of Duke Ellington.  They click big time, fall for each other and she joins his con. You can see how they relish each other and, “the game.” The complications are wondrous. They are, in turn ensnared by an over ambitious FBI agent, based on an actual FBI sting, to catch congressmen and a senator on the take. It involves a phony Arab sheik, suitcases of money, an actual man-woman con artist team to do the catching, everybody chasing the Yankee dollar.

From the introductory moment, when we see a paunchy middle aged man carefully arranging a strange hair piece through thinning hair and then combing it over almost strand by strand for presentation and performance, I was hooked. If you didn’t know that it was Christian Bale you wouldn’t know who was playing Irving, a shlub from the Bronx. Talk about a stretch and an actor submerging himself in his character. Christian Bale is extraordinary. He has done wonderful work before, look at him in, “The Fighter.” Or in “The Machinist” where he is rake thin, he lost tons of weight to do the film. Here has put on 40lbs. His is a riveting performance. Even his, “Batman,” was memorable. We’ve been watching and waiting and here all of his promise is fulfilled with, “American Hustle.” His very American con man, up from the streets of The Bronx, is many faceted, multi- nuanced, personalized and shaded in surprising ways. He touches us with his humanity. It’s all Jazz and sublime. Here is an actor working at the top of his game, hand in glove with his director. It is a joy to watch him peel off the layers, show us the insides of the con man and the drives and generous feelings and impulses that live there as well. Watch his reactions as he comes home to confront his wife about her big mouth almost getting him killed. His look of increasing astonishment at her outrageous reaction is priceless and Jennifer Lawrence’s wife in her bewildered, muddled, fuddled, victim/ heroine, tops her own inanity. She defends herself and in a split second goes on the offensive. She is a divine fruitcake. It’s all there in the eyes, the expressions, the body language combined with just the right good words. Sound and fury signifying everything. Jennifer Lawrence again steps out and delivers another smashing performance. She plays a creamy beauty also from the Bronx, you can fill in the early steamy part and living her own fairy tale, she felt she now had it made, and stepped up in life. After all she already had a small boy to take care of. The beginnings were all full of feeling and security. Irving adopted the boy as his own and truly loved him. Now she is a stay at home with, bored and prone to get into trouble. She, the mad housewife is one side of Irving. On the other side we have Amy Adams as we’ve never seen her before. She’s also interested us for a long time. We’ve seen her pert, the girl next door. We’ve seen her stronger in, “The Master.” Here she gives us the full woman, confident, smart, playful, scheming, sexy but also full of emotion and caring. Her’s is a rounded terrific performance. She’s a con-woman to match Christian Bale’s Irving from he Bronx. You believe that she’s an ex-stripper ready to step up into a life worthy of her and that she’s got the capacity to do it.

#AmericanHustle, is also a film story where women are as equally important as the men. Partners in the mad machinations of the American hustle. It is good to see for a change. The ensemble work of the entire cast is the best work I have seen in American films in years. Look at pretty boy Bradley Cooper curling his hair in his personification of an FBI gumba. He batters his comfort zone and ads significantly to the daffiness of the happenings. His disco dance sequence to, “Saturday Night Fever,” is sensational as is the rest of his performance. And Amy Adams’ is an outstanding, subtle, razor-sharp stunning performance.

I was also surprised by Jeremy Renner who I felt was a serviceable actor. Plug him in and he does what you expect, which is what he is supposed to do. In, “American Hustle,” he actually plays a believable character. He plays a politician. He is totally Carmine Polito, a mayor, New Jersey stylish, ever youthful with a big flowering pompadour. He plays him well, with feeling and compassion. He is very likable and adds a dimension that rounds out the hustling film story. He’s not a bad guy, will bend the rules but his drive, deeply felt, is to bring gambling to Atlantic City and with its windfall of money and do good for New Jersey. Simplistic but real. He really means it. His Carmine and Bale’s Irving bond, small time New Jersey and wide Avenue the Bronx. Irving feels for his new friend even though he’s the one who pulled Carmine into his scam. We see the other side of betrayal and are touched by Irving’s efforts to fix it to the extent he can. His feelings hang out and we feel for him. It humanizes him and shows us he gray areas at play. It’s part of this very human life sized glimpse of an American dream not idealized.

Another element is the visual. It is a film that looks good and is good to look at. It is up close and personal when it has to be and an overview when that is what is needed in this careful blend of visual perception.

The music should not be forgotten. Russell uses music importantly as signature statements of characterization and plotting. The music sings the story without being a musical. The music inspires, highlights and punctuates significant moments.

What do the two films, “Hustle,” and, “Wolf,” say abut our sensibilities … our outlook …our sense of our future? What are we concerned with as choices for artistic expression? If film is the lens through which we see ourselves, what do these films say about us…? Pretentious…? Not if you want a future not, “written on dollar bills.” “American Hustle,” and, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” give us two distinctly different view points. “Hustle,” layered, thoughtful, playfully imaginative, textured emotionally and true to it’s American pedigree. The film that could not have been made anywhere else. American to its winter’s bone. Or, “The Wolf of Wall Street” pounding, exploiting and romanticizing the excesses of our destructive impulses. Martin Scorsese’s version of current Americana. He says his primary influences as a filmmaker were the great Italian film directors of the 40’s and 50’s, except that they worked with money because they had none and infused their films with insightful humanity and plausible emotion which Mr. Scorsese leaves out in his over the top exploitation. Sure sex, drugs and greed plus the driving ambition to  “make it,” are part of our American dream, and, but for personal choice, a little bit of luck or…fear, we can all end up in the slop. Now what do you want to tell me about it…?  “Hustle,” tickles us. “The Wolf …” numbs us. It is an exploitation film that is inherently …not true. It is Mr. Scorsese’s big lie. On the other hand Mr. Russell does not glorify our bad behavior. He shows us the rough edges and the softer lining. He is talking about us to us. Not at us. We get it. He nails the demented American dream but has compassion for its participants and its fools. The distortions are tempered by heart. What else can we expect from today’s outrage. At least there is an intelligence and sensitivity at work in the fields of wonder. Hooray for Hollywood. I just hope a lot of people see it and it makes a ton of money. The proof of the pudd is in the eating.  “American Hustle,” is a feast. Go and it enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Theater Threads – “After Midnight” a Holiday treat!

October 30, 2013 – After Midnight – Conceived by Jack Viertel and based on Duke Ellington’s music and Harlem’s famed Cotton Club.

Jared Grimes in the Broadway show AFTER MIDNIGHT

Ho, Ho, Ho, ‘tis the season to be jolly. For once, Broadway offers us a special gift for the holidays. Shining brightly on the great white way at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is a show worthy of its praise, shouting its glittering arrival to one and all. It is a stunning hit out distancing all of the usual hype and marketing of our loud, overbearing age. If there were more superlatives I would heap them on After Midnight.

Based on the music of musical legends of the 1930s and 1940s, we are treated to Duke Ellington’s Black and Tan Fantasy, Cotton Club Stomp, Daybreak Express, and The Mooche, among numerous other Ellington favorites. Mixed in are old standards, On The Sunny Side of The Street, Cab Calloway’s Saz Suh Saz, the steamy Stormy Weather, even Diga Diga Doo, and I Can’t Give You Anything But Love. These gems are all dressed up brand new for our enjoyment by Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, also one of the show’s producers. Mr. Marsalis’s phenomenal musical inspiration, the big band sound is sensational, can be seen throughout this glorious production.

I must admit that when I first heard of this show I had misgivings. Immediately I thought of my high school days at De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx. Many mornings instead of sitting in class, my pals and I could be found in the balcony of the Paramount Theater on Broadway waiting for the likes of Stan Kenton’s band to blare us awake at the 9 A.M. show. Anyway, here I was waiting for another big band to raise the roof. After Midnight was a fresh and welcome surprise. Aside from Wynton Marsalis’s deft musical handling, the other hero of this dazzling entertainment is Warren Carlyle the director and choreographer. His work is imaginative, versatile, ambitious, just plain terrific from tap to bottom. What I also liked was that they didn’t gook it up with a flimsy sentimental story, the Cotton Club, gangsters, creamy show girls, and the usual blather that passes for story to hang the music on. They set the scene with a lamppost and a phantom gentleman played by the charming Dule Hill who uses excerpts from the poet-writer Langston Hughes to walk us into the Harlem after midnight specialty numbers. He also sings and dances remarkably well and guides us through the wondrous night.

Then there is the cast. I wish there was time and space to feature each and every member of this singing and dancing group of amazing performers. Fantasia Barrino, confidently sexy, sings in a style reminiscent of Harlem’s great ladies, Ethel Watersesque, with a little of Billie Holiday thrown in to remind us; she then sweeps us along with her unique versatility. She is a star in the making. The superb comic interludes by Adriane Lenox, the tap stepping of Virgil “Lil O” Gadson, and Jared Grimes are wonderful to behold. Not dancing but DANCIN’. Smooth Julius “iGlide” Chisolm, earns his glidiness. He doesn’t seem to have a bone in his body as he slithers to and around the beat. That’s just to mention a few. They are all, men and women, singers and dancers, top-notch great. They have been brought together effortlessly as singles, duos, and ensembles by Warren Carlyle to perfection. Isabel Toledo’s costumes add to the luster of the show. All in all a joyful concoction. Perfect for the Holidays. Bring the whole family and pig out.

November 13, 2013 – Big Fish – Script by John August, based on the novel, Big Fish by Daniel Wallace and Columbia Pictures. Playing at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway. Music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.

Big Fish is one of those almost-but-no cigar shows. It is a funny bird. It has wings but it can’t fly. It has songs but it doesn’t sing. It pretends to be a whopper but it is a minnow with nowhere to go. The individual parts are greater than the whole. They just don’t add up to a satisfying completion of the idea. I know what they wanted to do. A father and son coming to terms with the father’s imminent death and what is real about their relationship. Not easy stuff. The father tells tall stories, or are they so tall? The son doesn’t know what to believe. This is the problem. It is a premise for the imagination with which to play. Fantasy is great for the theater and for the audience to indulge in the great questions of death, reality, the delicacy of a father’s dreams, and a son’s hopes for the future. When you have music in your toolbox it should be easier. Music, lyrics, and the poetry of the theater can take you where words alone fear to tread. In Big Fish, the music and lyrics aren’t good enough. They don’t take us, allow us, to sing, hum along with the ideas. Andrew Lippa’s words and music don’t take us anywhere but to the obvious. You can orchestrate ordinariness and make it sound grand but if there is no magic, then there is no magic.  I found myself wanting Big Fish to be better. It is clearly visible that everyone worked so hard, was working so hard, but it just wasn’t happening.

Nice shows don’t win ball games.  There is an expression that a fish is rotten from the head down. The problem with this fish is conceptual. There was no core. The fantasy made for nice pictures but where you should have cared, you didn’t. It was all a let down and so much of it is good that you wonder why they didn’t fix it. Inevitably it all goes back to the script writer, in this case, John August.

You even had a major asset. The lead actor playing the father and big time storyteller is Norbet Leo Butz. He is a genuine, 100% true blue, one of a kind, STAR. A performer par excellence. A unique magician of the stage. A singer, dancer, actor, who can do anything and will do it in his own individual way; and I’m sure, never the same way twice. He’s a Broadway guy. They come along once every so often to amaze and astound us with their dexterity, originality, and brilliance. I would go and will go to see him in anything. Yet despite the power of his performance, he cannot carry Big Fish. It is just not there for him, to try as he does, carry it on his shoulders.

Big Fish features Susan Stroman’s direction, staging, and choreography, which is masterful. Her imagination is fully at play as she fuses the costumes and scenery, weaving them into dance patterns that excite our senses. The ensemble work is true American musical comedy. The singer/dancers, Broadway’s best, do it better than anyone in the world. When the show is dancing it is terrific. The production design by Julian Crouch is colorful and charming. Yellow flowers grow and fish do fly.  There is a friendly giant and tall tales galore; trees actually dance the way dreams do. The costumer, William Ivey Long, joins in the fun as sets, costumes, and dance flow together for our enjoyment. So why am I not happy? There was a young girl about eight in the seat in front of me. During intermission, her Mom leaned over and asked her what she thought so far. The little girl hesitated than looked up and said, “Interesting.” Out of the mouths of babes. “Interesting,” the kiss of death. It’s too bad but it should have been better.

November 6,2013 – The Jacksonian by Beth Henley; directed by Robert Falls and presented by The New Group, with Ed Harris, Glenne Headly, Amy Madigan, Bill Pullman, and Juliet Brett at the Acorn Theater Off Broadway on Theater Row.

In Christmas tradition of course there has to be a chunk of black coal in the proverbial sock. For this holiday season it comes in the form of The Jacksonian, a play of dark decay, deep deceit, decadence, and dizziness by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Beth Henley. The play was originally performed at The Geffen Playhouse in L.A. in 2011. It had the same stellar cast of Ed Harris, his wife in real time, Amy Madigan, Glenne Headley, and Bill Pullman in leading roles. The cast is brought in tact plus the debut performance of talented 16-year-old Juliet Brett who holds her own. They are each and every one terrific. They are one of a kind actors who take the stage, rattle and roll, and take us along for the ride. I’ve long said that actors are the gift of the theatre. They light up our stages and brighten our lives.

This crew is up there with the best of them and we are lucky to have them with us. Add to the mix Robert Falls, the outstanding director, Artistic Director of the famed Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Ms. Henley’s sermon on southern hospitality gone astray, is meant as an entertainment of some sort. So just what are we presented with?  Ed Harris, a wonderful actor, plays a dentist too close to his anger. A verbose patient talks too much racial nonsense so he pulls out all his teeth. Closer to home, he beats his wife, played by Amy Madigan. She throws him out which is why he is at The Jacksonian Motel at Christmas time. She gives vent to a whole range of actorly turns. The wife is nuts which must be fun to play. It also makes for a wonderful duet. Then we have the sexed up motel house keeper, a racist who will do anything to get married, to have that little ring on her finger.

She is played, no holds barred, by Glenne Headley. The guy she wants to marry is the Elvis-haired bartender, a creepy Bill Pullman. He is a pervert and a murderer. No matter to the housekeeper as long as she gets that ring on her finger. By the way, it’s the ring the pervert/murderer took off of his victim. Then there is the 16-year-old precocious, lyrical (think Member of the Wedding) daughter who seems to know what’s going on but wants her parents to stay together anyway or maybe she’ll go away with the pervert/murderer bartender. As I said, she really knows what’s going on. Throw in a murder and you have the basis for this horrific play. What’s it all about Bethy? If it is a who-done-it, I don’t care who or what he or she done did. I wasn’t titillated, or curious or interested. It’s all purple pulp.

I’ll be returning to writing about film in January  with Oscar picks in February.

Happy Holidays and a great New Year to you all!

 

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It’s a wrap! – #2013NewYorkFilmFestival – ReelTime – 6

The #2013NewYorkFilmFestival at Lincoln Center was finally coming to an end. I had spent three weeks sitting in the dark watching films which is something I like to do more than almost anything else. The films haven’t been great which is putting it mildly. #CaptainPhillips, overblown. #InsideLlweynDavis, underblown. #12YearsASlave, an earnest history lesson which made me long for, #Django and #The Immigrant, a phony. Now, #The Invisible Woman, my last gasp flick was going to redeem them all. #CharlesDickens, #RalphFiennes, directing and playing the great writer, set in, of course, Victorian England… a trifecta. I was anticipatory with excitement. What a dud-thud. The period stories that the Brits do for PBS and do much better.

Ralph Fiennes and Joanna Scanlon

Why did they bother. This lame film was a fitting reflection of the entire festival. Where was Richard Pena now that he was needed? After 25 years he had moved on to greener TV pastures and we were left with #KentJones, the new Director of Programming, Selection Committee chairman and a spanking new committee. I don’t know where they found them all but they aught to give them back and bring in a group who know and care about film. The selections seemed tacked on to marketing campaigns for studio films that were rolling out soon after their festival. If we were going to see them publicly almost immediately what was the point of the festival showings? Last year there were wonderful surprises, #LifeOfPi, #Amour, #BeyondTheHills, #FillTheVoid, to name a few. They were provocative, touching, astounding, endearing, and wondrous, in ways that only film can be. The amazing leaps in technology displayed in the use of 3D in. “Life of Pi.”  Films that renewed your faith in film…in humanity …in life itself. This year’s films seemed commercially accessible but is that the point of the Festival? I thought that the Festival represented the best of the best. I also thought that the Festival allowed time for obscure films that if not for the Festival would not see the light of day. The festival would give interested film folk a chance to see the off beat, the rarified and unusual. The delicious stuff you don’t get to see. Recommendation … Change it for next year …fix it … adjust it. One more disaster was the decision to screen #Providence, among the Revivals. I mentioned it in my last blog. Duck. This 2013 Festival didn’t work.

At first I was encouraged to see four programs of #shortfilms up from last year’s two. The short film has come into it’s own of late. What with technical advances daily and more distribution avenues, recognizing the short attention span of today’s audiences, the short film is in demand. No longer is it an orphan, hiding in the back room.  It is ready for prime time. I was pleased that the NYFF had recognized this. At last it was, if not ahead, at least in line with the curve. I saw 3 of the 4 programs, 14 short films. They were for the most part, ordinary or just plain awful. Who chose those films…? Possibly the same feeble group that selected slates for the main showings. There was one gem. It was a 17 minute short film from Denmark, #9Meter. Just terrific. One film out of all the short films represented in the 2013 NYFF. Not nearly good enough.

The 2013 New York Film Festival. The pick of the best of the best. I expected more. I wanted more. I left with a bad taste in my mouth. It was an enormous waste of time. There were exceptions. #TheLastOfTheUnjust, a must see documentary. #RichardCurtis’s, #AboutTime. I think his best yet. The small #frenchfilm from #agnesb. #MyNameIsHmmm. #AllIsLost, from director J. C. Chandor with Robert Redford as the secondary character, the ocean being the first. An achievement worth viewing. Watch for them …see them … they are films worth going out of your way for. And #9Meter. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, aspire to that level before you dream of venturing any further.

One more for this year. I have to mention, #WoodyAllen and, #BlueJasmine. The worst script he has ever tossed out between blinks. “CateBlanchett’s performance, though outstanding, is no credit to Mr. Allen since she came fully prepared with the character, having done Blanche in #Streetcar countless times just prior to Woody Allen getting the bright idea for this much, and falsely, acclaimed film.

Save us all from hype.

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#ShortFilmsAtTheFestival – #51stNYFF – ReelTime – 5

TAKE THIRTEEN –  #ShortFilms at the #NewYorkFilmFestival:

9 METER, Short film, Denmark

At this year’s Festival what I was really looking forward to was the Short Film Programs. I have been involved with short films from the very start of my involvement with working in film, writing #screenplays and teaching #screenwriting. The #shortscreenplay has been at the heart of my approach in making a writing process available to the writers that work with me to make it easier for them to understand the way the screenplay works. In ten sessions, focusing on key elements of the screenwriting craft and than practicing what was understood in exercises following each session, the writers, in a learning by doing approach, end up with the first draft of a screenplay, having gone through my process to get there. The short film has always been the focus of my work. This was an opportunity to see what was being done in the short film world. I was encouraged.

At the 2012 New York Film Festival there were 2 programs of short films. At this year’s New York Film Festival there were four programs of short films. It made sense. The short film was no longer an orphan relegated to the rear seats or tagged on to a feature film. There is an ongoing technical revolution and the short film is one of the beneficiaries. With all manner of devices to view the streaming of programing available and with the short attention span of today’s viewing public, the short film is ideal. I was eager.

Short Film Program One:

!.  #TheAirMattress, – David Kestin, USA – 9 minutes.

Well made, well produced, cast, and acted.  A nice set up. Boy meets girl cute. While baking cookies (her business) she is disturbed by a squishing noise from the apartment upstairs. It is really annoying. She’s heard it before. She goes upstairs to complain. He doesn’t know what’s making the sound. They become friends. He tastes her cookies. Delicious. Love at first bite but it can’t be too easy. They make a deal. He’ll sell her cookies. She’ll send out his photographs. The young man buys her cookies himself. She gives him her own money for the photo’s she was going to sell. The story is borrowed from Guy De Maupassant, major french writer. Why not… we borrow all the time. The trick is to borrow from a really good writer then make what you loan …better, to suit your purposes. In “The Air Mattress,” they find the promise of love in the mattress, that that was what was making the annoying noise. Their mutual deceit is overlooked and we just know that at the end they will share the air mattress. Slight…smile… OK… not good enough. A situation and a punch line.

2.  #OpenHouse, – David Kestin, USA – 11 minutes

A young woman and a young man both desperate for an apartment, decide to search together. They look at terrible places. At the last moment on a subway train before they go their separate ways, he finds out it is her birthday. To cheer her up (she has no place to live) he lights a match for her to blow out and make a wish on. Cute …smile…She blows out the match …closes her eyes and wishes …opens her eyes …sees a flyer over her shoulder that just happens to be there, which advertises the perfect apartment. They look at each other knowingly …Fade out. Beshardt … meant to be in Yiddish. Thin…OK … again really a circumstance and a punch line. At least they were both short. To have two in the program at the New York Film Festival …not chopped liver.

3. #Tryouts – Susana Casares, USA – 14 minutes.

A teenage Muslim girl wants to be a cheerleader. She has all the moves. The teacher/coach tells her she can’t wear her head scarf. Her hair has to be free and uncovered like all the rest of the team. Problem. Her father seems sympathetic. Her mother is rigid. No way. Head scarf. No cheer leading. She is upset but obedient. Later she shows her little sister all the right moves and the tricks of cheerleading. You know she’d be terrific. Her mother is adamant. At the meeting for the new cheerleaders, the girls prepare for their routines, our girl shows up in uniform and head scarf. There is a tense moment. The coach, sympathetic says she has to take off the scarf to join the team. Our girl slowly takes off her head scarf. She is bald. Everyone gasps …Fade out. I’m not sure what it was all about. It just seemed to sit there with more questions than answers. Something seemed left out.

4.  #Samnang – Asaph Polonsky, USA – 22 minutes.

In the night shift of a bakery, an middle aged asian immigrant man works hard preparing the doughnuts and other baked goodies for the morning. The boss introduces him to his new helper. It is his cousin who has just lost her job and needs the job. He is to teach her. The boss leaves and our man doesn’t even look at his new helper. He is afraid that if he teaches her she will take his job. He is horrid to her. She finally can’t take his silent hostility anymore and dumps a tray of dough all over him. He realizes that he has been an ass and slowly a relationship begins to form. He takes the first steps towards her and perhaps towards a new friendship …maybe more. It is character driven. Takes too long . It is OK but slight. I began to get a bit uneasy. The films so far were bland …small …not interesting.

5. #MyMind’sOwnMelody – Josh Wakely, Australia – 29 minutes.

A factory, bleak, dull, dark grey black tones. I get it. It’s a hard, cold, dreary life. The workman hero trudges, drags his weariness along. He is miserable. He has an accident. Out cold. The colors change. Bright and beautiful …everything now a pastel glow in illustration like images… His version of, “if only…” and there she is in flowing, flimsy gown, the woman of his dreams, and the cottage with the white picket fence. All is all so so …with a lyrical background. And …he, they sing… pure love … pure… I don’t know …I was amazed. He is revived, back to his normal dismal world. Wants to escape to dreamland …runs away from the hospital.  Is pursued. Falls, out cold … back to the beautiful dream …and everyone is singing about how lovely it all is. I was at Lincoln Center …I couldn’t scream. The music and the singing matching the triteness of the story …awful. I couldn’t believe they would let this nonsense see the light of day. How did they let it out of Australia never mind into the New York Festival? It must be the worst concoction I have ever seen and I’ve seen a lot. It was this side of parody . They meant it seriously …straight … I couldn’t believe it.  ”My Mind’s Own Melody,” is Australian for rubbish.

6.  #9Meter – Anders Walter, Denmark – 17 minutes.

I’ve saved this for last. I couldn’t end with the taste of the lyrical Australian mess.

“9 Meter,” is the pick of the litter. It is an unqualified gem. Just a terrific small film. It rivals the best of the short films that I have ever seen. It was short listed for this year’s 2013 Academy Awards in the short narrative film category. I will be watching with interest.

It is well produced, well directed, well cast … very well done. An idea worth fulfilling.

A l6 year old Daniel, grieves at the bedside of his mother who is in a coma. The prognosis is not good. He is heart broken. He really doesn’t know what to do with himself or for her. He is a long jump talent so what can he do? He thinks that she responds to his telling her about his long jumping feats. As he advances on records she seems to respond by squeezing his hand. He increases the length of his jumps as a way to prolong her life. His jumps are increasingly dangerous because he has moved his jumps from the track to the roof. She lingers. He jumps. You watch. You feel his heart break and you hope that he will make the next impossible jump. The mother starts to slip. In despair he runs to the roof. His father tries to console him, an arm around his shoulder. They move towards the exit. The young man stops for a moment to adjust his jacket. The father continues. Our young man turns, strips off his jacket and bounds towards the roof’s edge to make the impossible leap of 9 meters. He floats into the middle of the air …graceful …suspended in space … blackout. It ends where it should. We know everything that we have to. As I said it is a gem. What would’t we do if we could only keep our loved ones alive. Worth waiting for.

I was going to do an overview and breakdown review of each of the four Short Film Programs. That was my plan. My grandfather was right. Man plans…God laughs.

Ever the eternal optimist, I went to Short Film Program Two with  high hopes and a few butterflies. I wasn’t ready for the escalating awfulness of the entire 6 shorts. I took notes … lots and lots of notes. I was hugely disappointed and was going to tell you why …in detail. It was worse because my wife Vimi was with me and she had to sit through the resounding awfulness. When I tried to make sense of my notes afterwards for this piece, I realized that I was just going to compound the offense. Varying degrees of badness makes no sense to write about and is boring to read. Also there aren’t enough adjectives. Whether the films were from Canada, Brazil, the UK, Turkey, France or the US, bad ends up in the same yawn. Put dreck in a plastic bag it’s still dreck. Came out of the Second Short Film Program pissed off.

Short Film Program Three was more of the same with a few variations.

The Fourth Short Film Program, 3 films, 2 from Portugal and one from the Philippines, were just as muddled only longer. Running times 26 minutes, 32 minutes and 31 minutes. Longer didn’t make them better only gave the audience more time more time to squirm.

The Short Film Programs were an enormous disappointment. My Short Film Development Program has to do better. I won’t accept …awful. I did, however, come out with a standard, “9 Meter.” Thank God for small favors.

 

 

 

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#51NewYorkFilmFestival – ReelTime – 4

TAKE TEN: #12YearsASlave – listed as a #SteveMcQueen film.

Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor

I use the word listed, because Mr. McQueen is the director and much more. It’s his film. “Slave,” is based on the memoir of freeman Solomon Northup, a free man from Saratoga, NY played effectively and emotionally by #ChiwetelEjiofor, who was abducted in Washington D.C. in 1841 and delivered to a slave trader then sold to a gentleman farmer, resold to a mentally unbalanced cotton grower, a horrid figure who embodies the true savagery and insanity of the cruel system of slavery which has had such a profound effect on American history and society and culture. Screenwriter #JohnRidley pulls the whole thing together and gives us a focused view through his personification of Solomon’s journey. Steve Mc Queen’s regular cameraman, Sean Bobbitt (together 14 years) makes it all look antic deep slavery south. It haunts us. One of the producers is #BradPitt adding his fire power to getting the film made, I’m sure. He also plays a small but key role of a Canadian carpenter, the only sane white person on the plantation, on contract to work there. He is instrumental in freeing Solomon and underplays it with quiet modesty and is impressive.  Obviously it is a painful chapter in this unflinching look at America’s tortured racial history.

Reflecting on Steve Mc Queen since it’s his sensibility that we are experiencing. He’s a good guy and wants to do something, “important.” That may be the trouble. He is known for his austere, “Hunger,” and , “Shame,” and now here gives us an uncompromisingly violent and thinking man’s film about the perverse American institution of #slavery. Seeking a way into the broad subject, he takes a direct route, straight on. He plants the camera and let’s us experience the moment that is part of the lore that is America. He tells us the unvarnished true story of a poor bastard, snatched from his comfort zone and plunged directly into the hell of slavery in the deep south. Lately we’ve had a number of films about the black experience. Why not…? Main stream at last. Bring it on. Even when we’re hovering ground we’ve trodden before it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be walked again…and again… Like the Holocaust, we should never forget. But and that’s a big but, you can’t just tell us what we already know in a straight forward way. The is the way it was. Kidnapping, chains, humiliation, finally someone, an accidental sympathetic ear, a letter to friends in the north and “our Solomon is a free man.” Ripped away again this time from the plantation and the furious slave owner … a final hug with the desperate woman he had befriended, a sad look back and he’s gone … home. A hesitant, tearful reunion with his family, “there’s a lot of catch up …and, I’ve had a hard time lately.” Soul looks all around …and that’s it. The end.

The logic is that he really couldn’t do anything else. He is held up as the moral standard. What’s happened to a good man, tried and true. He could have raised money to buy the captive Patsy, the desperate woman who clings to him at the end, begging him to …”help.” He had, we see, a meaningful, touching bond with her. He saw her violently raped, beaten to the point of wanting to die. She even tried to pay him to kill her. She was that desperate. He knew it. We knew it. He leaves her looking back sadly as she begs him to do something. Sorry… the happy end …back to home and loving hands. Moral standards? Hire men to break her out, killers to do away with the crazy slave owner and his as crazy wife. It’s not my problem. I didn’t write the script under Steve Mc Queen’s watchful eye, but there is more to the moral question. This version is told by a Londoner from Trinidad. What story would we get if it were done by a black American from the south…?

Mr. McQueen tells us concerning his film, “I think people are ready. With Trayvon Martin, voting rights , the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, (I was there) and a black president, I think there’s a perfect storm, I think people actually want to reflect on that horrendous recent past in order to go forward.” We’ll just have to see if folks in various parts of the country go and see the film…? Commentary will have to wait until then. For now, peek in at #JonStewart and #Colbert not Fox News or maybe, Fox News, as a reminder of how far we’ve come …? I know it’s a film and the awards season is upon us … lions and tigers and bears …oh my.

TAKE ELEVEN: #AllIsLost – conceived, written and directed by #J.C.Chandor

Starring …the entire cast – #RobertRedford playing our man.

Mr Chandor has laid out (original script 31 pages) the story of a lone sailor as he awakens to find his yacht sinking after a collision with a dislocated shipping container in the middle of the Indian Ocean. As the days pass and his options steadily dwindling, our man, who he is, where he comes from, why he is there, all left unknown, puts his intelligence and practical knowledge to the task at hand …survival. J. C. Chandor, with one feature film behind him, “Margin Call,” talkative, complicated, multi-layered, does a masterful job in focusing our attention on our man as he fights for his life. That he has Robert Redford as, “our man,” is the measure of his success and why his simple, direct, in your face death defying film, no dialogue, (a few choice words) film wins us over to the extent it does. Exhausting if not entertaining, Mr Redford’s performance is fearless. Alone on the screen from the start to the finish, relentless, facing the prospect of death with quiet determination and the utmost dignity, he gives a majestic performance. We can’t take our eyes off of him. He doesn’t panic … he goes about his business which is to surmount the very real danger and simply go on …persevere …survive. You see him being…normal. At one point with dark clouds and a storm approaching, he takes the time to shave; you see things are going to be alright. I’m shaving… He is a good sailor and we watch him do what he knows how to do. He is not superman, doesn’t know everything and at times has to figure out what to do next. We see him learn on his feet, improvise. We pull for him to make it. It is very human. It is his simple humanity that touches us and that is the strength of this special off kilter, and at times, uncomfortable film. That’s life …isn’t it. In spite of everything, in the face of terrible odds, of seemingly hopeless ends, we go on. It is the human condition and it is our responsibility to live. That’s the essence of this film.

Robert Redford, in this all characterization film… no dialogue to lean on, fills out our man. His struggle becomes our struggle. We are one with him. At the end …ambiguity. Is he saved … ? Is it the hand of destiny or man that reaches for him?  For me it really didn’t matter. I had taken the journey with him. He ended up where ever he ended up. I will go on a little longer and a bit further.

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

TAKE TWELVE: #TheInvisible Woman – directed by #RalphFiennes.

#CharlesDickens great writer …personal favorite. A film about him … I was looking forward to it. Add to that #RalphFiennes playing the honored man of letters as well as directing …I’m drooling. What we get is a story about Charles Dickens, a man with sexual desires, sexual needs, a …man not unusual. What else is new … Ah yes it was Victorian times and sex wasn’t talked about and Charles Dickens had a 13 year affair with a young actress. He was 45 and she was 18 when they met in 1857. Their affair was a big secret. No kidding. We watch as Mr. Dickens pursues the young actress with vigor and longing. After all he has 10 children and a wife who has grown stout and unattractive and, we are told, uninterested in him, and to him. She was probably exhausted while he was writing and attending parties with young actresses. Joanna Scanlan makes her an appealing person in her own right. We feel for her. So he was a selfish man who cared about his reputation and his work. What else is new. It’s the work that counts. The invisible actress is played by #FelicityJones, a young actress with charm, grace and the good looks to hold our attention. That she was compliant in keeping the affair secret for decades after his death … alas his reputation is paramount and given the grip of Victorian times. She was also given a big house and, I’m sure, financial arrangements to see to her future.

As a director Mr. Fiennes has a sure hand with his company and a fresh sense of daily life in late 19th century London. The English do period better than anybody. Director of Photography, Rob Hardy gives it the look and feel of English grandeur.

I was disappointed. A great man, a great writer had an affair … perhaps fascinating to the English public and Anglophiles but for the rest of us… Watch Public Television. They do this stuff best.

 

 

 

 

 

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#51stNewYorkFilmFestival – ReelTime – 3

Now we’re into the second week of the, #NewYorkFilmFestival at Lincoln Center and I have a few more observations. We’ve been told that this year brings new leadership, a new creative thrust to the festival, a new selections board, a forward looking new energy. So far I’ve seen among other things, an overblown, #CaptainPhillips, an under blown, #InsideLlewynDavis, and a fraudulent, #TheImmigrant, plus a disastrous revival, #Providence, …and I haven’t even touched on the short film programs. So much for innovative and thrilling cinema. Who said that, “films are better than ever.” But there’s always possibility… so we go on dreaming and writing and making films.

My Name is Hmmm , Douglas Gordon, Lou-Lelia Demerliac

TAKE SEVEN: #MyNameisHmmm…. #JeM’AppelleHmmm… written and directed by Agnes Troubles aka #agnesb. She is also a photographer and fashion designer so she does some of the camera work. In the promo material she says that nobody wanted to make her film. It’s a loaded subject … incest. She is a film amateur. It’s a delicate subject to say the least. So she did it herself which is exactly what she should have done. She deserves a festival showing just for that. Amateurs go where angels fear to tread. Kudos to her for there is a lot more to recommend her film. She has cast it remarkably well. The young girl Celine played by, first time actor, Lou-Lelia Demerliac, is an astonishingly good find, a keeper. The Scottish truck driver, Peter, played by artist (not actor) Douglas Gordon, is equally wonderful. It is an accident of pairing. The fit here is stunning and it’s what makes this story and film go. They both have the simple articulation and nuanced yearning to be real. They each fill their creations with dignity, warmth and the discovery of a new human adventure. I found their relationship very moving. It is the core of the film. It is what you remember about this very affecting small film.

But yes… incest. As the story opens, the act of incest is soberly, elliptically and briefly shown. An average French father, out of work, at loose ends, disturbed, tormented by his own demons, too much at home while his wife works as a waitress to pay the bills, asks his 10-ish daughter Celine to come upstairs. It is not the first time. And it hurts her but she says nothing. The house is tense. The mother frets … something must be wrong…? It hangs there. Separately we meet the Scottish trucker, Peter, on the and lonely long road, uneasy, troubled, he stops for lunch. He doesn’t have time for the rough chatter and jokes by fellow truckers and leaves abruptly. Not a  happy guy. Back on the road which seems endless, he looks at a photo. A woman and child who we later find out have died. We sense his solitude…his great sadness. He parks on a beach, goes for a walk on the sand. No shoes, a small freedom. Celine on an outing to the beach with her school class, wonders off alone. She picks up drift articles and creates a small fantasy in the sand. The trucker passes by admires her handy work and continues on his sandy meander. She, her dolly in hand, continues on her meander, sees his truck, opens the door, crawls in to the sleep space behind the driver’s seat. Peter returns, puts his shoes back on, reality, and is back on the road. That’s the way they meet in this sweet adventure. Unfortunately #agnesb. uses a mix of film and photography techniques to accentuate some of the reality vs inner moments but not always to satisfying, often distracting effect.

A road picture of another kind. Celine steps out into the world for the first time. Her inner little girl brightens. He sees her in the rear view mirror in the truck and instinctively accepts the little runaway he knows not what or why but he continues into what is a true and tender love for the little girl. For him, a replacement … an attempt to once more feel something … an openness to life’s possibilities …even for a moment. What grows between the rough, end of the line trucker, and the little runaway girl is intense honest mutual love, silent, conveyed in looks and gestures. We watch …and marvel at the simplicity and directness of their connection. On the road Celine tells Peter of her father by just pointing and that it hurts. Peter understands. All he says is, “Bastard,” which seems to say it all.  When the truck stops in the late afternoon so that they can rest, Pete goes for wood and Celine plays near the truck. The police car stops and we know … we fear … the idyl must end …the inevitable is only a tick away. The trucker will not say a word in his defense. She has been examined. She is not a virgin. He is guilty. Authority, society, fraternity, must render judgement. They would not understand. They would make what he and Celine had ugly. It’s all there in his silence We get it…know the truth … and grieve for him……and Celine. A tragic end.

And…then if goes a little off …The father, miserable in himself, is the one who picks Celine up from the police station and brings her home. In a short screen minute all is forgiven. Really…? Go see, “My Name Is Hmm…”. An unexpected take among the films on this prevalent but still guarded subject. In a time of bombast this hand woven insightful film is refreshing.

TAKE EIGHT: #Providence, written and directed by #AlainResnais – 1977. It was his first English language film. It takes place in the feverish mind of a dying novelist, #JohnGielgud no less, as he conjures a feverish labyrinthine narrative. At least that’s what the production notes say. I didn’t know what the hell I was watching. In it #DirkBogard , #EllenBurstyn , #DavidWarner , #ElaineStritch, all notable and exceptional actors, do what they can, which isn’t much, with the muddle in the novelist’s  mind, whom he knew, and these same characters who return as members of the novelist’s family at a colorful outdoor lunch on the estate of the great man with little dramatic impact. It is all a mess from beginning to end. That it looks good …so what …? That it has a remarkable cast who move about as if they know what they are doing…so what …? It all doesn’t fit together. The dialogue feels like it was translated from the french, barely translated. The balance, the tone, the rhythms are off. The whole film is off. Mr. Resnais is a proven, very good filmmaker …in French. Here he is out of his comfort zone. Why would anyone want to bring it back in a program of Revivals at a world class film festival? Intellectual curiosity …? Not good enough. If you get a chance to see this old film …Don’t !

TAKE NINE: #TheImmigrant, directed by #JamesGray (” #Little Odessa “) and written by James Gray and #RichardMenello. It is clear that this is James Gray’s film. The background notes say that he got it from his grandfather. Being in his early 40′s he’s too young. He got the heresay from family lore perhaps handed down from his great grand-father is only the beginning of what’s wrong with, “The Immigrant.” It looks good. The director of photography is #DariusKhondji, (“#Amour ,” ” #Midnight in Paris ,” ” #Se7en .”) It should look good. He gives us 1920′s Manhattan as a dusty sepia toned dreamworld, sometimes faintly luminous but often dejectedly burnt out. In the story which begins at #EllisIsland (the real thing, touching for me, my family has a plaque there for grandparents and other family members who came through there) a young polish immigrant Ewa, played by #MarionCotillard, a versatile French actress and a real trouper for what she goes through here trying to make the material work. After being separated from her sister Marta, who has TB and must stay in the infirmary for 6 months to see if she gets well, if not deported, Ewa, distraught, finds herself caught in a dangerous battle of wills with a shifty burlesque manager-pimp named Bruno, played with his usual panache tinged with instant danger, #Joaquin Phoenix . What Bruno, armed with, “important contacts,” is doing at Ellis Island on that particular day is anyone’s business. It seems that Bruno has this inside information, (back story) and is trolling for girls in trouble to join his, “ladies.” But how does he settle on Ewa? Just because she’s good looking? And how does he get Ewa’s aunt and uncle to not show up …? Lots of back story left out. He’s there. We’re expected to accept a lot because that’s the way it happens and if it happens on the screen of course it makes sense. Just leave your brains outside the theater.

Happening on the lower east side of New York, described as the #Jewish #LowerEastSide, there isn’t a Jew in sight. No sounds, no sightings …nothing. Bruno tells Ewa early on as they walk through the streets clogged with pushcarts that he speaks #Yiddish so no one will bother them. We hear no Yiddish. Gornisht. All this could be happening as an extension of, ” #GangsofNewYork,” where at least they had Irish accents. Bruno’s name is Weiss. He is Jewish. There is nothing in Phoenix’s performance that suggests that. I’m not suggesting a broad cliche …but something…? Then #JeremyRenner shows up as the magician Orlando. He is Bruno’s cousin. We learn that they came over together from the old country. He is also as Jewish as a christmas tree. Not the only thing screwy about his character. For me there has to be some logic even for fantasy. I kept feeling …what am I watching…? At a key point … Bruno, after lying through his teeth and being caught at it by Ewa, tells her that they need to relax and that on Sunday they will go to a vaudeville show. She says that on Sunday she’s going to church. Cut to the church. She is on her knees fervently praying to Mother Mary to forgive her sins. Bruno comes into the church looking for her. Why …? Writer manipulation. Because that is what happens next. She proceeds to the confessional. She pours her heart out to the priest. She has sinned…let me count the ways. Bruno goes to the side of the confession booth in the crowded church and listens to her confession. Really …but then and here’s the good part … he realizes the extent of his …badness and we move on to … REDEMPTION.

This film is an emotional fraud. Mr. Gray wants us to believe he’s created something special. As if he’s saying something personal about the immigrant experience. He’s left all the important ingredients out of his concoction. I don’t believe the characters and I don’t believe the story. I walked out angry. There are countless stories of the immigrant experience, Mr. Gray didn’t do any of them. See, “The Immigrant,” at your own risk.

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#51stNewYorkFilmFestival – ReelTime 2

TAKE FOUR – #Inside Llewyn Davis, written and directed by #JoelandEthanCoen. A CBS Films release.

Inside Llewyn Davis: Press Conference with Joel and Ethan Coen, Oscar Isaac, John Goodman

The #CoenBrothers offer us this small, dark affectation, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Sounds serious … looks serious… but when the lights go on it quacks like a duck. What remains is … a whisper in the wind …in a dark alley really. It’s a puff of smoke …snookered once more.

And…tell me again, why are the Coen Brothers the critics’ darling…? They loved it at Cannes. The French will love anything dark, cold, smothered in atmosphere, disconnected … Coens, The Obscure … Bravo … thunderous applause. The Emperor has no clothes. “Inside Llewyn Davis,” is a big dark hole with a lot of terrific folk music. As a film I wish there were more to it or is that the point. Nothing, no matter how you slice it … wrap it … serve it … is still nothing.

A few points of interest on the side. #OscarIsaac sings folk very well. He is also a persuasive actor playing a folk singer hanging on by his finger tips. No silver lining here. It’s a hard rain a fallin’ and it don’ let up. Takes place in the early 60′s before Viet Nam found it’s voice and folk singers, real ones, slept on friends couches. You had to be really dedicated to really stick it out. As for Llewyn Davis, there seems to be nothing else he can do. The artists’ life is always hard especially if you are good but for all the reasons we know and love, you remain invisible. To civilians, artists in one way or another are always …failures unless of course they become celebrities. It was ever thus … and most likely always will be. Artists do what they do because …they have to. The rest is commentary.

The story is the scene before Bob Dylan shows up. The joke, half hearted or half comment or preview at the tail end of the film is that the act that follows Llewyn our folk singer, is sitting in the shadows waiting his turn. Recognizable …Bobby Dylan. The future is upon us. Culture moves on. The moment with Llweyn passes. The artist trying to be true to the authenticity of his, “Why,” has no place to rest his weary head or shine his worthy ability.

Smile and the world smiles with you …even the artist … at times… except in this film.  ”Inside Llewyn Davis,” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea…and it’s herb tea .

TAKE FIVE: – #CaptainPhillips, written and directed by #PaulGreengrass. USA – 143 minutes long- Long by any standards. It is the Opening Night Gala selection of the #51stNewYorkFilmFestival which runs from Sept 27th to Oct 13th 2013.

The puff piece intro says, “Paul Greengrass has crafted  an edge-of-your seat thriller based on a true story of the seizure of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship in 2009 by four Somali pirates, with remarkable performances from Tom Hanks and four first-time actors, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdirahmaan and Mahet M. Ali. A Sony Pictures release.” Simple …crisp…complete. Says it all. Big Time Opening.

There is more to say. “Captain Philips,” is very well done. Paul Greengrass is a crackling good director. Look at the, “Bourne,” films…crackling. #TomHanks as always is beyond good. He lives up to his … and the four amateur Somali teenagers more than hold their own. They are first rate. No small accomplishment. The story is ripped from the headlines. We tingle with excitement. We know the outcome. We win. Now let’s see it in living color with triumphant music in the background. Greengrass, coming from documentary-docu-drama, his stuff is real so we look to, “Captain Phillips” with great expectations and there is enough moral gravitas to make you think it is something beyond ordinary.

“Captain Phillips,” has the overall feel of a recruitment film for the US armed forces. We are exceptional …We are overpowering … We are the best trained – the Best equipped…the best, best. Join us and you too can be supreme just like Captain Philipps…and that is not to make light of Captain Philipps. A little over-kill perhaps? Three mighty US warships including an air craft carrier for the helicopters and …drones, how cool is that. If you got it …flaunt it. This small armada to subdue 4 teenage, undernourished and hungry, they don’t eat but chew on weed. They are ignorant and scared half to death …and yes they have automatic weapons. Oh yes and don’t forget the Navy Seals who really do the job. Deception and the death of three pirates and the capture of one who gets 33 years in the Fed prison for his part. These are young guys hustled into being pirates by War Lords promising death if they don’t succeed in taking a passing ship.

We don’t root for them but just maybe there is a bit to understand here…if we even think about the cirumstances of what we are watching along with the cheering and flag waving and we’ve already seen it on cable news. The film has been enhanced by the latest in technology. You can now be right there …in the heart of the action. You can thrill with it in real time. We also know a lot about the human dimensions. The young Somali leader has some depth, some humanity that we relate to. He is not just an evil component. We feel a twinge for him and that’s something to acknowledge. There is intelligence in the construct of this film but what are we flexing all that muscle for. Yes it is a legitimate story of a hero. Captain Philipps stood up when it counted. He did what he was supposed to do. It was a touch and go situation. He got roughed up … he didn’t get killed. He was heroic in any light. Did it need all that fire power. It is as if we are living out our own cliche. I’m sure the film will do very well. It’s an easy one, has everything going for it. All the dynamics. It will …sell and we’re back to greed, marketing and pop culture. It’ll go great in the hinter-land or our Sudantan. For the non-linguistic …the traumatized South. Raw meat for the restless. I wonder how it will look to the rest of the world.

It is too long and I was underwhelmed .

 

TAKE SIX – #Jealousy (#LaJalousie) written and directed by #PhilippeGarrel. A fast 77 minutes

Puff pouring: “Another intimate, handcrafted work of poetic autobiographical cinema from French Director Philippe Garrel, in which his son Luis and Anna Mougalis star as actors and lovers trying to reconcile their professional and personal lives. In broad terms I guess you could say that … intimate … personal …poetic … French …spell constipation. I think that it all goes to prove that if you do anything slow enough … with blank stares to nowhere … sensitive close ups …averted eyes … frowns … turned down mouths … tight … it’s significant … sensitive … the small drams of la vie francais. It also goes to prove that when the french mess up they do it in ways that are excruciatingly French. “Jealousy,” makes the American equivalent and current hamopion of the up and coming ho hums, ala “Francis Ha,” look …heavy. Well…not really. They are equally dull and annoying. As to the actors … they act… they are not bad. It just does’t matter. Don’t waste your time with this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#51stNewYorkFilmFestival – ReelTime

It’s been a while… the lead up to and then the summer were very busy. Teaching, two big film consults, finishing rewrites on the five plays I took off the shelf last December. Now I’m back…in time for the #51stNewYorkFilmFestival.

TAKE ONE – #TheLastOfTheUnjust – written and directed by #ClaudeLanzmann, creative camera work by William Lubitchansky. Lanzmann, his production and technical crew all achieve at the highest level in this singularly incredible achievement on film.

I don’t know if, “The Last of the Unjust,” is a documentary. It impressed me, more accurately, as a Testament. Claude Lanzmann is special …alone …his own category. We are not surprised. We have been with him before. In 1985 Claude Lanzmann presented the world with, “Shoah,” and we were riveted. It still resonates within us. Still haunts us. Claude Lanzmann made it for us. For all of us. He made it because he had to. His urgency is what grips us. He has made a number of films, before and since, starting in 1973 with, “Israel Why,” which led him to, “Shoah.” “Shoah,” took him eleven years. Now he is compelled to make us witness again with his remarkable, “The Last of the Unjust.” He is behind the camera … he is in front of the camera … part of his in-your-face, confrontation of a very large truth … his insight again demanding our attention. It is clear that Mr. Lanzmann also wants to speak out loud so that no one can miss his involvement or his commitment. In his own voice, looking directly at us, he admonishes us, his universal audience, to listen, to see, and to never forget. We sit in the dark , compelled to watch, listen and weep for what was done while we all slept safe and warm, comfortable in our beds. He insists. It is effective in presentation. He takes his time knowing that we must look away and still his camera remains firm, lingers, the images ingrained, as we must look back and see and hear what he wants us to see and hear for ourselves.

Lanzmann focuses our attention on #BenjaminMurmelstein, the last president of the Jewish Council in the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, the only, “Elder of the Jews,” to not have been killed during the war. A controversial figure, he was a rabbi in Vienna, following the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938 . We see how Murmelstein fought bitterly with Adolf Eichmann, week after week for seven years. He tells us, verifiably, that he managed to help around 121,000 Jews leave the country. We see that he was also responsible for the preservation of the ghetto. He says that as long as the ghetto existed … the Jews would be seen … the world would have evidence of their existence. Mr Lanzmann says that he filmed Murmelstein as part of his research for, “Shoah,” but did not use the footage. He goes on to say that, “it took me a long time to come to the realization that I didn’t have the right to keep these first hand revelations to myself.” In 2012, Claude Lanzmann at 87, without masking anything of the passage of time on himself or Murmelstein, shows the incredible permanence of the locations involved, exhumes the 1975 interviews shot in Rome, and returns to Theresienstdt, the town, “given to the Jews by Hitler,” a so called model ghetto, but a ghetto of deceit chosen by Adolf Eichmann to dupe the world. Mr. Lanzmann shows us the extraordinary Benjamin Murmelstein . We see for ourselves a man, “blessed with a dazzling intelligence, a man of true courage. ” He seems to have an unrivaled memory which makes him a wonderful wry, sardonic and authentic story teller and a great focus for Claude Lanzmann’s commentary.

Mr Lanzmann takes us, leads us, shows us, Nieko-Poland, then Poland and on to Therewienstadt, and as he must, Vienna and finally Rome, for this final interviews. The film provides an organic insight into the genesis of the Final Solution. His film reveals the true face of Eichmann, and exposes without artifice the savage contradictions of the Jewish Councils. Who better to tell the story from the inside, says Lanzmann, than Benjamin Murmelstein, the only President of the Jewish Council who stayed alive. “His testimony is invaluable. He doesn’t lie, we see him as ironic and sardonic. He is hard on others and just as hard on himself.” In this uncompromising film, we see Benjamin Murmelstein is a big personality. He fills the screen. His energy and passion still intact, he unleashes a fierce overflow of informative nuance, personal and historical, insightful in the best sense of the word, direct from the horses mouth. Him to us. We hear him bear witness in his own words, we see his expressions, his body language speaks volumes. That’s what Claude Lanzmann’s camera does. It gives us truth.

#HannahArndt, a leading intellectual of the time, had an extremely harsh judgement for the Jewish Council presidents. She thought Murmelstien was weak; contributed to the Jewish destruction by giving in to the Nazi’s. In the past year there was a narrative film about Hannah Arndt. It talks about her ideas and the impact they had on her friends and admirers as well as the world community. It shows her confused as some of her close friends turned away from her.  My wife Vimi and I saw the film at our independent film house of choice, #TheQuadCinema in #GreenwichVillage. As we stood in the street afterwards talking, a man, average, middle aged, came up to us. “I saw you in the theater. Can I talk to you about film…? I’m confused.” When a film can prompt discussion it’s a good thing. We talked, shared reactions and opinions about what the film said to us. I’m not sure if the man left less confused.

Hannah Arndt is a theorist who lived in her head. Her ideas seem to have come from afar, second hand theory laid out to prove her points. The banality of evil. They say that this happened …therefore so an so must be true. Hard not to often come to the wrong conclusions…if you speak it loud enough …often enough. What the film about her shows among other things …is a lack of empathy. What cold hard facts mean … but what if you don’t have all of the facts? What if you leave the emotional logic out of you equation? I think that, “The Last of the Unjust,” refutes Hannah Arndt. Eichmann was not just a banal practitioner following orders, he was the personification of evil. A full partner, willing helper, actively involved, knee deep in the Final Solution. Benjamin Murmelstein was there and he was not the only witness. He may have been the loudest and he was accused of being hard, difficult, complicated …co-operating with …against …again. He became a hated figure for survivors. Murmelstein voluntarily spent 18 months in prison. Lanzmann says that he didn’t have to. He had a passport from the Red Cross. He could have left at any time. He continues, “The judges, who were no softies, ordered his liberation with no serious charges retained against him.” Lanzmann’s conclusion after all of his involvement, “he was the absolute opposite of a collaborator. He himself says that he has a big mouth, and that he could be brutal. It was also his way of standing up to the Germans. We see it all in this film. Painfully complicated.

Lanzmann concludes, “it wasn’t Jews who killed their fellow men. You can see who the real killers are.” He sums it all up saying, “I have no doubt that Murmelstein will emerge better understood, and appear more empathetic, and that the prosecutors calm down. I’d like that.”

After seeing, “The Last of the Unjust,” I can’t help but agree with Claude Lanzmann. Once again he has been abundantly successful in his quest for the not so simple truth. Put it on your must see list. Go and see, “The Last of the Unjust.” Judge for yourself.

TAKE TWO: #TheWindRises – based on a graphic novel published in the Monthly Model Graphix.Original story and screenplay written and directed by Hayao Miyozaki.

In the first credits we are told that this film is a tribute to engineer Jiro Horikoshi and author Tatsuo Hori. Add that it is 126 minutes and it gives one pause to worry. With  ”The Wind Rises,” Hayao Miyazaki wanted to make a beautiful full feature animated film. The title is inspired by a poem. More pause… He did. It is beautiful… beautiful… beautiful. He also wanted to make an epic. The great Kanto earthquake in glorious color and design, it’s depiction in full wrath and free fall. More epic … The great tuberculosis epidemic … Japan’s amazing rise to industrial power… Epic.  Japan’s great plunge into horrific WW11… Is that enough epic for you? On top and weaving throughout all of this epic greatness … we have a great romance. Our hero, Jiro meets (during the earthquake …how cute is that) and falls in love with his one true love, Nahoko. A little Camille, thrown in for good measure. She is tubercular. We see his friendship with smart, creative pal Honjo, but the true aviation genius is Jiro, who becomes one of the world’s great men of animation, leading Japan by creating the Zero fighter, supreme among Japan’s WW11′s destructive forces. These things unfold as if Tom Sawyer suddenly grew out of short pants and became Thomas Edison. He meets Camille (Japanese version) has a great romance with a lovely young woman of his dreams who stands by her man through earthquake, harsh wind … deadly illness …and on and on and on…

It is all beautifully designed and drawn. It is also vibrantly colorful. The color is sometimes used for humor. A German character, I think he is German, a brief singular reference to, anti-war sentiment (subtle) …I think, eats a bowl of greens in a restaurant. The greens are soooo green and wormy that they seem alive. The character was in the story for a moment and then is gone. Why …? Small rule… if you can’t justify him …you can’t have him. It’s one of the things wrong with this bulging animated film.

There is, however, dream stuff to counter all the epic stuff. Jiro dreams of flights of fancy – aviation in the flesh of Gianni Caproni, an airplane creator known worldwide from the dawn of Italian aviation with it’s sense of style, form and beauty. He appears in Jiro’s dreams to stir up, advise and voice Jiro’s thoughts and emotions. Aviation is the life force that breaths through, “The Wind Rises,” and Gianni Caproni is there whenever things get too heavy and Jiro needs him. It is an enjoyable and glorious touch. Were there more of him and less of the epic….

Too much of a good thing. For all of it’s positive ambitions … I’d pass.

TAKE THREE: #AboutTime- written and directed by #RichardCurtis

Richard Curtis is a unique and singular voice in World Cinema . He is very English yet touches the universal core with each film he puts his hand to. He is no longer a surprise. We now wait impatiently for his latest refreshing treat. After all we’ve already had “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” and “Bridget Jone’s Diary,” to stimulate our senses.

“About Time,” just might be Mr Curtis’s most personal comedy to date. It is about love, friendship and… time travel. We’ve al been in situations where we fumble, falter, grope for the right words … and then the moment is gone and you are left with a dry mouth and dust in your hand. Later in your stew of quiet the shoulda…woulda …coulda. If only that moment were re-played you’d know what to say…what to do … how to behave …oh if I could only, I could only go back and fix i. Richard Curtis does exactly that in, “About Time.”  He offers us a delicious conceit that he uses for small favors that actually affect his young hero’s life profoundly. He doesn’t change the world. He doesn’t save man-kind. His gift doesn’t work that way. It’s a family thing.

At age 21, Tim Lake, our hero, discovers he can travel in time … his father simply tells him that, “men in his family have always had the ability to travel through time.” Tim thinks that’s nuts … and so do you sitting in the dark shaking your head. Tim finds that this unique gift can’t save him from the sorrows and ups and downs that affect all families, everywhere. We smile …woulda, coulda, shoulda … Life will be what it will be … and that’s the glory of being alive. It’s funny and it’s sad. It’s so natural, so ordinary, we recognize the characters on the screen. We recognize ourselves and smile. When film can do that it’s well worth the trip to the cinema. Richard Curtis has made an English pud … a movie that reflects on the good and the bad things in life and makes you appreciate what’s in front of you.

The casting is relentlessly good. Half the battle in film making is the casting. Curtis has it right all the way down the line. For the young centerpiece, Tim Lake, he has cast Domhnall Gleeson of Anna Karenina, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a fine young Irish actor. Not a pretty boy but straight up conventional and very appealing. He is approachable and solid. Gleeson, usually around as the hero’s best friend here he takes the lead and nails it. You want him to succeed and when he does … you cheer …quietly of course. His partner in this small celebration of life is Rachel McAdams as his Mary. We remember her from, “The Notebook,” “The Vow,” “Midnight in Paris.” She has that girl next door or the girl that you wish was next door, quality. Beauty, humor, wit, imagination, not a know-it-all and just enough vulnerability to win your heart. She’s got Tim from, “Hi…”

However …what makes the conceit, time travel … (smirk smirk) really work, is the father and Bill Nighy’s performance. Bill Nighy, always terrific, here is quirky enough, just off enough, that he makes you believe time travel is …possible. You buy it …not at first, just as Tim is skeptical but once in the closet (you have to see it for yourself) and it works… you go with it. Bill Nighy, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Love Actually,”strikes again. He is a delight … a national treasure. Who, in his words, has “no interest in doing Shakespeare.” The full cast is convincingly wonderful. Lindsay Duncan as Tim’s mum, the family anchor is very centered and there in the moment … every moment. Lindsey Duncan gets it … all. Young actress Lydia Wilson plays younger sister, Kit Kat, the nonconformist, ads chaos to family life but you’re glad she’s there and Lydia Wilson is the reason why.

The production values are first rate. The locations, Cornwall, London, the Scottish coast look great. Go and see Richard Curtis’s, “About Time.” I came out with a big smile on my face and a wee twinkle in my eye. You will too.

Bravo Richard Curtis …up grade that to …Amen…!

 

 

 

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Short Films are the Future and that Future is NOW!

The Short Screenplay

It is happening right before our eyes. All you have to do is read the daily newspapers.

Feb 15, 2013 – The New York Times

Good Fit For Today’s Little Screens

Although the story is about short stories, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. The Short Film will prosper for the same reasons that the short story is now being heralded. “It is the culmination of a trend we have seen building for five years.” The Internet has created an insatiable maw to feed. “The short film will undoubtedly also help fill the need.” “The single serving quality of a short narrative (read – short film) is the perfect form fit for the digital age.” The New York Times goes on to say, “Stories, (read -  short films) are models of concision, can be read (read and seen) in one sitting, and are infinitely and easily consumed on screens.”

The contagion has already started. The idea and appeal of the short film, like a spider spinning it’s web into our web, or an octopus, its tentacles reaching in all directions, even an amoeba spreading its ink blots, is as I write this, reaching far and wide.

The New York Times – March 4, 2013

A Screenplay Contest From Beijing

The announcement by the Beijing municipal government of the Beijing International Screenwriting Competition, inviting completed short film scripts, is a welcome gesture and promise for the short screenplay. The contest is to, “get movies made.” The only condition is that, “all the stories must be about Beijing.” Fair enough. It’s their ball park. “Once we have a good script, we will try to find investment.” The short film scripts are due by April 20, 2013, and may be submitted only by students in the US. All finalists will be flown to Beijing in June, when cash prizes totaling more than $100,000 will be awarded. No small potatoes.

This is just an indication of what is sprouting up in the most unexpected places. The point is that the short film is now increasingly in demand and the interest can only continue and grow. The potential is enormous. Everybody wants to play small ball.

New York Times, March 5, 2013

“Don’t Touch That Remote: TV Pilots Turn to Net, Not Network”

online-only-tv-shows-join-fight-for-attention.html?pagewanted=all

This story, another building block, points to the change in the approach to TV programming because of social media, pointing specifically to recent trends on NBC, HGTV, AOL and YOUTUBE among others. Hail, Hail the gangs all here.

With the evolution of the Computer Age, producers of intellectual property – screenplays, short films, now think in terms of distributing directly to the public through sites like iTunes or Netflix. The sharing of ancillary rights have now become more important and relevant to the question of the distribution potential.

We’ve seen the advent of digital media. The whole game has changed. We now rely on smart phones, tablets, immediate hookups with Amazon or iTunes, outlets being born each day. We buy on the spot. We think instant distribution. The short film will stream before your eyes in a wink. One-click shopping. It’s become an impulse buy. Some glint of entertainment catches your attention – click you’ve got it. Apps, on demand … there is at our disposal a whole range of offerings. Kindles are only the beginning and they will all stream short films for short attention spans. Now – quickly so I can move on the next big thing. Audiences can’t wait to slurp up digital content.

The new question on the block is “What is the social media plan for this short film?”

Upstart distribution companies are spouting up everywhere and the reasons for the new demand are obvious. New technology, digital cameras, editing software, easy lighting techniques, make filmmaking easier, more available and, just as important, affordable for would be filmmakers. You no longer have to break the bank to make your film. More films can and will be made, more outlets will be available, more audiences will be accessible. Film financiers are encouraged. They can now make a profit. There are practical reasons for them to invest in films. Indications are that Independent Films are flourishing.

For the short screenplay and the short film, the proof of the pud is in the eating. Reality is where the rubber hits the road and a million more truisms. It is terrific when the time we live in catches up to what I’ve been screaming for years. The short screenplay is a necessary step towards the full length feature film. It is the tasty appetizer before the hearty meal. It allows screenwriters to practice the craft of screenwriting, to try out their strokes once more before going over the cliff into the heady waters of the full length screenplay. Believe me … you have to walk the walk before you run.

Personally, word of my Short Film Development Program, has seeped out without my whispering into someone’s ear, I haven’t said a word or lifted a finger. In the past two weeks, I’ve gotten calls from Film Festivals in Italy and Berlin, asking that I submit either my full Short Film Program, or as many short films as I can, for their festivals. They need good short films. There is a demand for short films.

That is the whole point of my Short Film Development Program. It is clear that there is an enormous market opportunity for the short film. And…the short film means …exposure on your run towards the feature. We can whet the appetite of the film powers that be waiting in the wings.

If not now …When?

It bears repeating. …, “An opportunity is like the sunrise … blink …you miss it.”

 

 

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