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Friday
Aug292014

'Common Threads', and Oscar's History with LGBT Documentaries

Today is Wear It Purple Day, which asks people to simply wear the color purple in support of LGBT equality. It's appropriate then that we continue our celebration of 1989 today with a look at that year's Oscar winner for Best Documentary. Glenn is joined in a conversation by friend of The Film Experience and doco-expert Daniel Walber, writer for Nonfics and Film School Rejects.

Glenn: Daniel, thank you for joining us. While I would obviously love to hear your thoughts on the film, I think I would be just as interested to hear about how well you think Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt sits amongst Oscar's documentary history. So few films about gay issues have even been nominated, yet alone won (the only other winner of its kind is The Times of Harvey Milk, also by Rob Epstein), but does Common Threads hold up as a winner? And furthermore, given just one year later they ignored Paris is Burning, does it strike you as just a case of voters simply going for a subject matter that they felt was Important and Worthy rather than any genuine interest in LGBT issues?

Daniel: That's a fascinating question. I'm not sure a movie with the precise scope and loose style of Paris Is Burning would have appealed to the Academy no matter what it was about. They didn't go for Grey Gardens either. Common Threads was definitely helped by the gravity and capital-I Importance of its subject, but I also think it holds up well as a film. Epstein knows what he’s doing, and this one has just as powerful an emotional arc as Harvey Milk. The device of zooming in on panels of the quilt to introduce stories feels a tad schlocky at first, particularly with the Bobby McFerrin music underneath, but it wasn’t long before I was won over by its genuine affection and understanding for its subjects. Perhaps there’s some consternation that it beat For All Mankind [for the Oscar], which I know still has a great reputation (I haven’t seen it), but I do think Common Threads deserved the attention.

How to Survive a Plague, The Celluloid Closet and Film vs TV after the jump.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Aug292014

Political Filmmakers & Cute Dogs: A Conversation with Nick Davis

Amir here, to share with you a podcast conversation about my favorite film of 2014. I first watched Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtain at the Toronto Film Festival almost a full year ago. It was my last film of the festival and I debated long and hard if a late night slot after ten gruelling days of film-watching was a smart idea. Eventually I opted to give my all to the festival. Boy, am I glad I did.

Panahi has been slapped with a 6-year house arrest and a 20-year filmmaking ban in Iran on charges of political dissent but has since twice broken the ban in three years. His first attempt, This Is Not a Film, was a heated, frustrated attempt at circumventing the ban with a DIY documentary made in the confines of his living room, shot partly on an iPhone and reportedly snuck out of Iran on a USB stick in a cake! It made my top ten list in 2011 but Closed Curtain is one giant leap for Panahi toward imposing even more creative authority on his craft under the tightest of limitations.

In this meta-cinematic experiment, Panahi tells us the story of an author who hides himself and his incredibly adorable dog in a seaside villa in northern Iran to overcome a bad case of writer’s block. The world of the film becomes increasingly mysterious and the narrative structure shattered. It can be interpreted in a variety of ways, making the film a challenging experience and a very funny one, too.

I can’t sing its praises enough, which is why I decided to devote an entire episode of my podcast on Iranian films – Hello Cinema, co-hosted with Tina Hassannia – to this gem. We also had a special guest with whom The Film Experience readers are quite familiar. Nick Davis joined us to talk about the film, but given his familiarity with Panahi’s career and Iranian cinema, our conversation went in many unexpected, interesting directions. We talk about the Toronto International Film Festival, the world’s cutest pet, and everything else in between. As you're all aware, Nick is an impossibly charming speaker, so we left this conversation unedited, with all the fun bits included! Have a listen here, and if you’re interested in Iranian cinema, subscribe on iTunes. The September episode of the show will be about Iranian films playing at this year's edition of TIFF.

Friday
Aug292014

Thoughts I Had... on a bunch of new posters

We've neglected to share new posters so, let's do. A few brief thoughts, in the order they came, after each poster: Starred Up, Whiplash, The Seventh Son, Theory of Everything and American Horror Story: Freakshow.

Discuss!

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Friday
Aug292014

Tim's Toons: In praise of the long-dead Osamu Tezuka

Tim here. Bear with me for a moment: we’re just about done with our month-long look at 1989 in cinema, about which I already had my say. But one of the other things that happened in animation that year was that the great Japanese animator and illustrator Osamu Tezuka passed away in February of that year, at age 60. Which is absolutely no legitimate pretext for anything, but Tezuka is an artist I’ve wanted to talk about in this space for ages, and there’s never been anything remotely resembling a good excuse to do so. So this shall have to do. It’s no fun having a bully pulpit if you can’t spread the Good News with it.

And oh, what very Good News the career of Tezuka is. You might not have ever heard his name, but you know his work: he’s largely regarded as the godfather of both manga and anime, two media with a shared stylistic backbone that’s still mostly intact a full 62 years after Tezuka began drawing the original comic book version of Astro Boy.

Which is all very important and impressive, of course – that one man’s innovations could trickle down in a readily-detected lineage to things as diverse as the nuanced fantasy epic/family drama Spirited Away to the internet’s favorite whipping post, tentacle porn...

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Thursday
Aug282014

The 10 Most Terrifying Words You'll Read Today

[from a Telluride preview piece by Anne Thompson]

 

I don't remember one thing about this article (other than an underlying 'screw Toronto!' praise Telluride' tone) due to these ten words. TERRIFYING. I've already tweeted this out but for those of you without twitter, it was important that you share the nightmare. Forgive me for destroying your peaceful slumber tonight.

Thursday
Aug282014

An Honorary for O'Hara, At Last!

Actress Maureen O'Hara will be receiving an Honorary this year along with the great actor/singer/activist Harry Belafonte. Neither were ever nominated for competitive Oscars despite rich and enduring showbiz careers and, you know, that's exactly the type of performer that Honorarys should go to. Joining them are two previous Oscar winners because the Academy loves to double up for some reason. Still it's hard to complain about honors for animation genius Hayao Miyazaki and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. Jean-Claude, who is most famous for his work with Luis Buñuel has worked in multiple countries and for a very long time and semi-recently he co-wrote the super-brilliant movie Birth (2004) that we like to obsess on here. All four are amazing talents so congratulations to them!

But mostly I couldn't be filled with more joy about O'Hara.  We've been pushing for an Honorary as long as The Film Experience has been around. I'd like to claim credit for the Academy finally waking up and going "duh. no brainer: Maureen O'Hara!" but I suspect it was her recent tribute at the AFI that did it. O'Hara is 94 years old so there's no time like RIGHT NOW.

I gradually fell in love with Maureen O'Hara because of The Parent Trap (1961). When I was a wee bairne, before movies became my grand obsession, that movie was it for me, The Best One Ever. My mom liked Hayley Mills, I gather, whose big peak popularity years were in the early 60s before she had had any children. I assume this is how we came to know and love the various Mills movies as children but in truth I don't remember. I just remember that it was always my favorite. I thought it was hilarious, sang along to "Let's Get Together", wanted desperately to have my own twin and to this day I still find stories about twins irresistible.

As I grew older and the movie gradually became "I loved that as a kid!" nostalgia, I still enjoyed revisiting it from time to time. I even watched this kiddie classic with a high school friend more than once because that is a cool thing for moody teenagers to do (shut up). When I was little the movie was all about Hayley Mills. It was only when I started to get older that I noticed how deftly its two movies at once, a family comedy for kids and a romantic comedy for adults. And Maureen O'Hara couldn't be more vivid in it, and I'm not just talking about The Queen of Technicolor's hair. Some actresses fear playing mothers because it ages them but O'Hara, who was in her early 40s at the time, is proof positive that you don't have to be remotely sexless onscreen once you've acknowledged that you've entered the "onscreen mom" years. She's so lively in the movie in a great comic turn that uses so many of her gifts: terrific sexual chemistry, feisty spirit, solid dramatic chops, and entrancing beauty among them.

I didn't know when I was a kid that Maureen O'Hara had been a big deal since the late 1930s so it was a joy to discover that she had such a rich film history with multiple classics on her resume. There's a couple very important titles that I somehow haven't seen (The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Quiet Man are moving to the top of my queue), but we've talked Black Swan (1942) and How Green Was My Valley (1941) in the past few years right here.

I've always had a thing for redheads (as you know). Maybe it's the Queen of Technicolor's fault?

Thursday
Aug282014

Amazon Pilots: "Hand of God" 

Someone needs to have a long talk with Amazon about trying to compete with Netflix and the like with their original programming. Very first step (once you have content) is to make it accessible and advertise it. Advertise it AT LEAST on your own website where you have millions of shoppers. I'm a good case study. Ever since speaking with Dana Delany, a guest star here last month, I've been eager to see her new pilot that she and I talked about offline "Hand of God". I go to Amazon a lot and I've been wondering when advertisements would pop up for it and they never did. I had to search for it specificially and then once I was searching I had to instinctively know to click on a very small ad that said "Amazon Pilots" above the actual search results that showed me old attempts at original programming. They produced five new show possibilities but will any of them go to series if people don't know where to watch them?

Get it together Amazon or you're never going to be able to compete with Netflix!

 

For what it's worth, Hand of God was a gripping hour of television if, and this is an important caveat, you can stomach one more antihero show. (There are just so many of them). Ron Perlman stars and gets a pretty great 'WTF who/what is this?' opening scene for both a character and the pilot itself, beginning as it does with him naked in water, speaking in tongues. Turns out he's a very powerful judge who is losing it and whose son is in a coma. The Judge believes God is speaking to him and ordering him on a vengeance mission. We meet a ton of characters, none of whom appear to be entirely trustworthy.

Cons: Some of the expository bits were clunky (as they often are in pilots) and there was one subplot too many for a first hour. There are dozens of ways it could go wrong, mostly with overstatement; the Hand of God ministries scenes felt way too easy with immoral con-artist smarminess. Pros: But, that said, the pilot was well-acted stuff with at least two absolutely discomfiting and psychologically explosive scenes that manage to mess with multiple character's psyches. If the show continues it should look to the electric tension between the core family members (Perlman, Delany and Alona Tal as their daughter in law) and readjust the simplistic extremes of the peripheries. Film director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, World War Z, Finding Neverland) produced and directed and it's the kind of pilot that wisely whets the appetite while also feeling like a full chapter. The best reason to give it a try is the cast: Perlman is memorably unpredictable, Delany simmers with barely-veiled contempt, and among the supporting actors there's the always watchable Garret Dillahunt as a volatile born-again convict and Emayatzy Corinealdi (so great recently in Middle of Nowhere) as a high-priced call girl.

Hand of God and four more pilots (including one collegiate comedy starring "Assjuice" himself, Craig Roberts from this summer's Neighbors) are available for viewing now at Amazon. If in the Emmy aftermath, if you're ready for the new Fall TV season, have at them. As for myself, I'm so eager to get back to movies but August has been dull in that regard. Come rescue me, Fall Prestige Season, I need you!