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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Adapting "Guardians" -a screenwriting interview

I especially like that part about how boundaries can be a good thing. Knowing where the plot points have to hit always stops me from wandering aimlessly in my writing. Some may see those thing as cookie cutter but I've always found them inspiring.❞ -Daniel

 

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Entries in Iceland (5)

Wednesday
Jan222014

Sundance: 'Land Ho!' Proves Aaron Katz is America's Next Great

Sundance coverage continues with Glenn musing on the career of Aaron Katz and his latest, Land Ho!

"Mumblecore", the term given to the influx of super low-budget independent films with a rotating core of creatives, cops a lot of grief these days. I assume it's mostly from people sick of Lena Dunham’s ubiquity (she wrote/directed/starred in the incredible Tiny Furniture) or people just getting sick from the home-spun, handheld aesthetic that beset many of the movement’s features. Personally, I love that we now have the likes of Greta Gerwig, Lynn Shelton (who’s at Sundance again this year with Laggies) and Joe Swanberg amongst others. The brightest star to my eyes, however, is Aaron Katz, the 32-year-old American director who directed the woozy, boozy, teenage coming-of-age drama Dance Party USA and the deliciously cheeky Sherlock riff Cold Weather. He returns with Land Ho!, co-directing alongside Martha Stephens (Pilgrim Song), and proves that he is indeed one of America’s next greats and perhaps my favourite working American director.

Land Ho! is a simple film, but never simplistic. It’s certainly not as high-concept as Cold Weather, but it weaved an enchanting spell over me with its tale of two friends, Colin and Mitch, taking a late-in-life vacation through the wilds of Iceland. Paul Eenhoorn of the equally beguiling This is Martin Bonner stars with Earl Lynn Nelson in only his third (!) film, and your enjoyment of the film rests quite heavily on their shoulders. Eerhoorn’s delicate, friendly style is such a beauty to watch and the film’s latter passage as the re-invigoration of Colin literally comes bubbling to the surface in a hot spring is such an effective, richly portrayed sequence that's a wonder to watch. Nelson, also good, unfortunately has the lesser of the two-hander, although his randy senior citizen act results in many genuinely funny moments.

I can’t speak for Martha Stephens of which this is the first film I have seen, but Aaron Katz is just about the bee’s knees right now. I respond so strongly to his stripped back, but emotionally vibrant and visually effervescent approach to his material. It would be hard to make Iceland look ugly, but with Land Ho! it is filmed so lovingly by Katz’s frequent cinematographer, Andrew Reed, that is reveals an entirely new beauty. An argument scene between the two men lit only by the hovering radiance of nightclub glowsticks is a particularly striking image that I’ll likely not soon forget. The soundtrack, too, is a total winner with scenes punctuated by somewhat anachronistic – and yet totally right – electronic music including the film’s unofficial anthem, “In a Big Country”.

Compared to another former mumblecore-adjacent director’s Sundance return, Alex Ross Perry and Listen Up Phillip, Katz and Stephen’s Land Ho! isn’t a particularly revelatory creative step forward. However, what it has are rare virtues that will likely strike at viewers in a truly genuine, earnest place that cinema rarely ventures. It’s a sublime film, wonderfully styled, and one that makes me entirely confident in announcing Katz as one American cinema’s most vital, invigorating, and masterful modern voices.

Grade: A-
Distribution: Was just picked up this morning by Sony Pictures Classics for worldwide release in 2014. Let’s start that best original song ball rolling for this dizzying ditty by Keegan DeWitt.

Sunday
Dec222013

Do You Find "Inspirational" Films Comforting or Pandering? 

Something a little off the traditional awards path hit a few days ago which I've failed to discuss: The Heartland Moving Picture Award. The list comes from a non-profit group that aims to promote what some (i.e. jaded critics like, um, maybe myself) might dismiss as "pandering inspiration for the whole family!".  Or at least that's how I was prepared to dismiss it when I saw Saving Mr Banks and 42 were up to. I like Mr Banks but that spoonful of sugar is more a bowlful and I'll admit I didn't make it all the way through the baseball drama from the sweaty handholding to make sure I was INSPIRED. But then I noticed that my beloved Short Term 12 and Alexander Payne's Nebraska on there, and both are a little thornier. So I decided to stop being such a tough customer and appreciate/share this list after the jump

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Dec152013

Podcast: Awards Week Blowout Special

Nathaniel is back from his Iceland trip and going regional with JoeNick, and Katey for a one hour discussion of the barrage of film critics prizes from New York, Detroit, Boston and San Diego. And another thing: are LA's "ties" okay with this panel? 

Afterwards we pick on the Screen Actors Guild and their bizarre All is Lost joke (no Redford in actor but a stunt ensemble nomination when there's only one character and Redford did his own stunts?!)  and the team splits on the quality of Rush, recently resurgent thanks to SAG. Then we're on to the  Golden Globes for a discussion of the troublesome Comedy/Drama divide (read Joe's article for context) and we pick the best and worst of their nominees.

Also discussed: Jennifer Lawrence's backlash, Greta Gerwig's surprise, Forest Whitaker's acting, Leonardo DiCaprio's elusiveness, 12 Years a Slave's power, Philomena's luck, Dallas Buyers Club's ensemble, Wolf of Wall Street's editing, and Fruitvale Station's potential.

You can listen here or download the conversation on iTunes

Awards Week Blowout

Sunday
Jan062013

Drowning in Oscary Waters All Over the World

It's less than 4 days until we're drowning in it! I was called to task a bit for the tsunami image from The Impossible that greeted my first "days until" Oscar nominations post a week ago. I understand the charge of insensitivity and I'll admit it was a weird judgment call. But I have been feeling not just metaphorically deluged. There is so much literal fear or water / drowning on screens this film season. Have any of you noticed? It didn't hit me at first since it's not a particularly visceral fear for me... I've always loved the water.

Let's recount each dive in this year...

If Steven Soderbergh had filmed Life of Pi this would be the entire color palette!

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild -for Hushpuppy drowning is the end of the world, hurricanes as apocalypse. Those shots of drowned animals and her thoughts about them having no daddies? Heartbreaking. 
  • The Impossible - tells a true story of survival from the 2004 Thai tsunami. I still think it odd that it's visual effects and makeup did not make the finalists list for Oscars.
  • Skyfall -Adele's killer theme song kicks in just as James Bond plunges into the water, presumably to rest in a watery grave... or at least to sink into the trippy watery grave visuals of the opening credits
  • Oslo August 31st - this critical darling drama about an addict in recovery basically begins with the protagonist going all Virginia Woolf by loading his pockets with rocks and walking out into the water
  • Life of Pi - at the center of an ungainly expository drama, is a miniature visual masterpiece about a shipwreck and a tiger and boy sharing a boat alone in the vastness of the ocean
  • Jeff Who Lives at Home - stacks its coincidences one on top of the other to lead to a drowning rescue scene
  • The Dark Knight Rises -- death by exile (SPOILER) exile being an icy watery grave
  • Rise of the Guardians -- begins with an icy drowning
  • Moonrise Kingdom features a big storm and flood
  • Amour - has flooding but in which context we shouldn't say
  • Rust & Bone - Marion Cotillard loses her legs in a killer whale accident in France's Sea World and there is also a drowning terror sequence
  • Zero Dark Thirty -the waterboarding torture sequence is what keeps everyone talking though it's a tiny part of the movie. But still: horrific.

 

Last night, the Film Society at Lincoln Center showed two of the foreign language finalists (sort of*), Iceland's The Deep and Norway's Kon-Tiki, a double bill that was the equivalent of being tossed into the deep-end of this reccurrent theme. Both are true stories about men surviving the unsurvivable on ocean journeys. 

Iceland's Oscar entry The Deep comes from Baltasar Kormakur (of 101 Rejkvjavik, Hafid/The Sea, and Contraband fame). It's both poetically moody and crudely matter of fact somehow. It's steeped in the inky blackness you'd expect from an ocean story at night. (I'm so pleased my screener didn't work because I can't imagine being able to see it at all outside of the movie theater). Hell, even before we hit the water we're in Iceland at night so you can image the darkness. We follow a group of fishermen around as they drink and drink prior to their next voyage. The awful shipwreck occurs relatively early into the movie and for such a simple reason it's surprising that any fishermen live to die from old age. The drowning sequences were, for me, horrific in their calmness, like watching people casually negated as the darkness envelops them. The Deep unfortunately loses its frost-bitten footing  post-ocean trauma when there's a surprising amount of the movie left and we move into a sort of barely there invegistave procedura. But I appreciated The Deep for being very Icelandic (memories of volcanic eruption and a harsh life on the inky sea inform the drama throughout) and as a sort of shoestring non-magical-realist counterpoint to Life of Pi when a fat man begins to converse with a seagull, his only company.

Thor Heyerdhal (the real version) and Thor Heyerdahl (the movie version) played by Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen Norway's entry Kon-Tiki dramatizes the once very famous balsa wood raft ocean voyage of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. I say 'once' because two of my friends in their 20s that I spoke to about the movie had no idea who he was or that it was a true story. I knew the whole story from childhood since my parents had a thing for National Geographic magazines (we had a huge collection) and PBS documentaries -- I think I must have even seen Heyerdahl's self-mythologizing Oscar winning doc Kon-Tiki as a child at some point since the story was so familiar.

I sat down all excited to see the most expensive Norwegian movie ever made about one of the most famous Norwegians who ever lived about a story I knew and was immediately disappointed when everyone began speaking in English -- even in scenes set in Norway or between an entire cast of Norwegians (and one Swede). We definitely got off on the wrong foot this movie and I. As it turns out the filmmakers shot each scene twice, once in Norwegian and once in English and the version that's hitting Stateside theaters is, in fact, NOT the Oscar-competing film but it's English-language doppelganger. So most of us will never get to see the film that Oscar voters saw.

I came for a Norwegian adventure movie and got a strange hybrid film that seemed like a big budget Disney movie that had appropriated a foreign story. Maybe the acting was better in its native tongue? There was something about the coloring book simplistic character arcs and super accessible Movie-Movieness that made this very true story feel artificial, negating much of its power. As eye candy, though, the movie is really something, with the amazing beauty of both the Ocean and towheaded shirtless Norwegians exploited throughout. (And just like The Deep it makes an interesting counterpoint to Life of Pi . As in Ang Lee's picture there are scenes featuring bioluminscent marine biology, violent animal deaths, and mass flying fish suicides on a boat). C+

Friday
Sep232011

Mighty Submissions? Mexico's Got "Miss Bala" and China's Got Christian Bale

In the most mainstream-ready news yet for this year's Best Foreign Language Film competition, China has submitted Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War. The movie has changed titles at least three times now (literally) but yes, that's the very expensive Christian Bale film based on Geling Yan's historical novel The 13 Flowers of Nanjing which is about the Nanjing massacre when Japanese soldiers slaughtered Chinese civilians in 1937. Bale will play a priest who is helping to save Chinese citizens. I believe previous titles included The 13 Women of Nanjing and Nanjing Heroes. After a very long production the movie will supposedly be opening this December.

Zhang Yimou and Christian Bale on the set

Christian Bale in a still from the film that just can't pick a title!

Zhang Yimou is a superstar as auteurs go, having previously directed international hits and awards magnets like Ju Dou (Oscar nominee Foreign Film ), Raise the Red Lantern (Oscar nominee Foreign Film), To Live (Golden Globe Nominee Foreign Film), Shanghai Triad (Oscar nominee -cinematography),  Hero (Oscar nominee -China), The House of Flying Daggers (Oscar nominee -cinematography) and Curse of the Golden Flower (Oscar nominee in costume design). 

But with Bale in the lead (or prominent ensemble) role, one wonders how much of his new film is in English and whether that might not be a problem when the Oscar committee starts ruling about eligibility? Early reports suggested that 40% of the film would be in English though there's also dialogue in Mandarin, Japanese, and Chinese. Academy rules don't allow the majority of your dialogue to be in English in this category so we shall see. You know how finicky the Oscar committee can get about eligibility rulings. But one things for sure: this film won't have trouble winning attention with Yimou behind the camera and Bale in front of it. 

IN OTHER NEWS...

Runar Runnarson's debut feature VOLCANO will represent Iceland for the Oscars. It's the story of a retiree rediscovering his life. The film already has achieved a small degree of fame for an old age sex scene. Reviews are strong and it's said to be quite moving.

Last year's winning country Denmark has gone with SuperClasico

Then we have two countries that share the distinction of several nominations without a win yet.

Israel will present FOOTNOTE, the story of combative father and son Talmud professors which won the screenplay prize at Cannes. Israel is the most nominated losing country ever having been up to bat for 9 Oscars thus far.

Mexico (tied with Poland, just behind Israel, at 8 nominations without a win) will go with MISS BALA as most cinephiles suspected. I will be seeing the acclaimed beauty-queen in distress drama Tuesday for the New York Film Festival. Can't wait after all the good things I've heard. 

Here's the US trailer which I'm not watching so as to be surprised next week. The film opens in limited release next month after this final festival bow. 

Imagine that. At least TWO of the contenders are actually opening in the States before the following calendar year! It's so rare these days. And lately when that's happened it's been on December 31st. Boo! So give Mexico's Miss Bala and China's The Flowers of War points for braving a real release and not banking on the lottery ticket of a future Oscar nomination before hitting the big screen.

Useful Useless Statistics!
Countries that submit regularly that still wait on virgin nominations:
Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Portugal, The Philippines, Serbia, Slovenia, Thailand, Turkey, Venezuela ...and current cinematic hotspots Romania and South Korea.

Oscar's favored countries *these past 10 years* (they tend to go in waves):

  1. Germany (6 nominations, 2 wins these past ten years)
  2. France (5 nominations or 50% of the lineups)
  3. Canada (3 nominations, 1 win these past ten years)

Most favored country (in history) that has had a rough run with Oscar lately: Spain is the third most honored country in the Academy's entire history (19 nominations and 4 wins) but they've only been nominated once in the past ten years. Of course they won that year (The Sea Inside) and two of Spain's biggest stars also won acting Oscars recently (marrieds Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz ... so, uh, never mind. I take it back. Not a rough run! It's ITALY that's smarting. Just one nomination for the country with the most competitive wins and second most nominations ever these past ten years. What's going on Italy?)

CHART UPDATES (ONGOING) HERE including new films from Ireland, Albania, and Vietnam.