Friday, August 1, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: Authors Anonymous

Posted By on Fri, Aug 1, 2014 at 1:56 PM

click image Writers: not the world's most photogenic people.
  • Writers: not the world's most photogenic people.

This week in movies you missed:
a movie that decisively answers the questions: Why has no one ever made a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary about aspiring novelists? With the number of self-published books mounting every year, isn't this a phenomenon ripe for satire? Aren't amateur writing groups at least as easy to mine for comedy as dog shows, folkies and community theater?

Judging by Authors Anonymous, nope.

What You Missed

An invisible documentary crew introduces us to six unpublished LA writers who meet regularly to share their work. They include:

  • a breathy yoga-teacher-turned-romance-novelist (Teri Polo) who calls her Slavic-themed erotic opus Nyet Not Yet
  • her hubby and bankroller (Dylan Walsh), an optometrist who likes to dictate "ideas for a screenplay/novel/character" to his digital recorder but never seems to write anything
  • a crusty, flag-waving gun enthusiast (Dennis Farina) who fancies himself the next Tom Clancy but resorts to a company called U R the Publisher to put out his thriller
  • a young man (Jonathan Bennett) who idolizes Charles Bukowski and constantly asks to borrow money, explaining that his working-class authenticity depends on insolvency
  • a pizza-delivery-man-cum-carpet-cleaner (Chris Klein) who hopes to be the next Fitzgerald
  • a Sweet Young Thing (Kaley Cuoco) who is writing a novel but doesn't appear ever to have read one

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Canaries in a Cinematic Coal Mine

Posted By on Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 8:12 AM

Thomas Clarence "TC" Chapman (second from right) with a group of Iowa coal miners - COURTESY JESSE KREITZER
  • Courtesy Jesse Kreitzer
  • Thomas Clarence "TC" Chapman (second from right) with a group of Iowa coal miners

Jesse Kreitzer's great-grandfather, Thomas Clarence Chapman (known to many as "TC"), was a coal miner in a place that's not exactly known for having much coal: Iowa. Though its land no longer yields much of the stuff, Iowa had, until the middle of the 20th century, a fairly robust coal-mining industry. That filial connection to a bygone industry was Kreitzer's inspiration for his current film project, Black Canaries, an unusual version of which will play on two Vermont screens this week.

Black Canaries is a fiction film inspired by Kreitzer's interests in his own family history and in, as he puts it, "rural storytelling." "I choose these stories because I have my own longing to reconnect," he says by phone from the Woods Hole Film Festival on Martha's Vineyard, where his 2013 short Lomax was the opening-night film. "I've been living in cities for 10 years, and have every interest in getting back to Vermont ... I have a longing to get back to nature."

Kreitzer was raised in Marlboro, and says he's been making short movies since he was in third grade. He credits both his elementary school and Brattleboro's Center for Digital Art, which he attended for two years, with inspiring him to tell stories visually. "It's rare that a high-schooler will get exposure to the works of [Russian master filmmaker Andrei] Tarkovsky, for example. There were some really advanced teachings that I was exposed to in my high-school years," he says.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

What I'm Watching: Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story

Posted By on Sat, Jul 26, 2014 at 10:34 AM

Woody Allen as the chameleonic Leonard Zelig - WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Woody Allen as the chameleonic Leonard Zelig

Though I grew up on Woody Allen's films, I gave up on them about 10 years ago, around the time of Match Point (2005). Though that film garnered a lot of critical praise, I found it stupefyingly dull and barely competent. Match Point apparently represented a kind of late-career renaissance for Allen, as he has used it as a generalized stylistic and narrative template for the nine films he's directed since — none of which I've cared to see.

They just don't interest me anymore, and neither did any of the eight or so Allen films that preceded Match Point. (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion was maybe the nadir.) Sometimes you just have to cut your losses. Je ne regrette rien.

I hate to be one of those guys who says of Allen, "I only really like his earlier, funny stuff" ... but that pretty well sums it up for me. His run of 1970s comedies — including What's Up, Tiger Lily?; Take the Money and Run; Bananas (which I "quoted" in my own undergraduate thesis film); Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex; Sleeper; the uproarious Love and Death — are still my favorites.

I also admire his 1980s and '90s "serious comedies" including Stardust Memories, Hannah and Her Sisters and, best of all, two films that are stylistically and thematically linked: Husbands and Wives and Crimes and Misdemeanors. These last two are incredibly incisive, brilliantly made films, and they rank among Allen's best.

But for me his very best film is 1983's Zelig, the mock-documentary about Leonard Zelig, a chameleon-like man who had no identity of his own. Zelig is not only incredibly funny, but a milestone in the mock-doc form. Not because it's believable enough to make viewers think it's an authentic documentary (the movie makes no attempt to hide that it's Allen himself playing Leonard Zelig in its "stock footage"), but because of its absolutely seamless integration of archival footage and newly shot film.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: Maniac (2012)

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 3:52 PM

click image "Look, Mom, no elfin' charm!" - IFC MIDNIGHT
  • IFC Midnight
  • "Look, Mom, no elfin' charm!"
This week in movies you missed: Frodo Baggins — er, excuse me, Elijah Wood — plays a psycho killer in a remake of a grindhouse flick that made Gene Siskel run for the exit back in 1980.

The new Maniac bears the distinction of having been banned in New Zealand, sort-of hobbit homeland, for its depiction of brutal killings from the killer's point of view.

What You Missed
Frank (Wood) is an Angeleno who earns his living restoring vintage mannequins. It sounds like the sort of occupation that would earn him a lot of hipster points in LA, combined with his generally emo demeanor and soulful blue eyes, but here's the thing: Frank isn't good at dating. He's better at stalking women on the street, ambushing them, murdering them, scalping them and decorating his beloved mannequins with the trophies.
The back room of his mannequin shop is a house of horrors where he sits amid his hideous creations (who appear as real women through his eyes), exhorting them not to be jealous, since he loves them all the same. Oh, and he talks to himself and his absent mommy a fair bit.

Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a young French photographer, stumbles on Frank's retro shop and thinks it's the coolest thing ever. She wants to feature his mannequins in her gallery show and make some sort of statement about objectification. Frank really likes her, but can he keep his madness at bay? I think you already know the answer. 

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Burlington's Diversity Rocks Wins National Awards

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Diversity Rocks members display their ECCO awards. - COURTESY OF DIVERSITY ROCKS
  • Courtesy of Diversity Rocks
  • Diversity Rocks members display their ECCO awards.

Diversity Rocks
, a multicultural youth group based in Burlington, recently picked up two awards for its video "I Am the World." The awards — a first-place prize in the "Media Outreach" category and a third-place prize for the "Audience" category — were granted on July 17 by the Maryland-based Excellence in Community Communications and Outreach (ECCO) program, a project of the federal government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The three-minute video, viewable below, features young Vermonters from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrating the attributes that both unite and differentiate them. The video is sincere and moving; it also unexpectedly and delightfully recalls Bob Dylan's legendary proto-music video for his song "Subterranean Homesick Blues" — you know, the one where he displays all those placards to the camera. 

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

What I'm Watching: Great Expectations

Posted By on Sat, Jul 19, 2014 at 8:00 AM

In Miss Havisham's parlor - UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures
  • In Miss Havisham's parlor

A free film series is a great thing, so I don't know why I rarely get out to the Tuesday-night showings at Burlington's Main Street Landing. Last week, though, I drove downtown to watch David Lean's 1946 version of Great Expectations, a film I'd never seen before.

(All cinephiles have the "I Ought to Have Seen This By Now" list; Great Expectations had been on mine. Though these lists needn't be sources of shame, in the age of streaming video it's harder to justify certain oversights. For instance, I've not yet seen some work by Robert Altman, one of my favorite filmmakers. What's on your "Shoulda Seen It" list?)

I recall my grad-school friend Mike once saying, after we'd watched some particularly grim drama of the "Kitchen Sink" school of filmmaking, that he was pretty well done with British films. And I knew what he meant: Many British films seem a little colorless and boring — though perhaps only to jaded American eyes.

But those descriptors don't fit Great Expectations at all. I have not read Charles Dickens' novel, so I can't assess the accuracy of the  claim that Lean does the best possible job of condensing the long, complex narrative into a two-hour film. But the film's story is engaging and lively enough to keep anyone riveted.

More interesting to me is that Great Expectations is visually impressive. I don't put much stock in the Academy Awards, but it seems like this film's Oscars for art direction (black and white) and cinematography (black and white) were well deserved.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: Dogtooth

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 1:29 PM

click image Papoulia and Tsoni perform for their parents. - KINO LORBER
  • Kino Lorber
  • Papoulia and Tsoni perform for their parents.

This week in movies you missed: I watch "the weirdest feature film ever to make an Oscar shortlist," according to Steve Pond of the Wrap.

What You Missed

We are somewhere in Greece, in a house with a garden surrounded by a high wall.

Three teenagers listen to a tape introducing them to new vocabulary words. The tape gives glaringly incorrect definitions. The kids, a boy (Hristos Passalis) and two girls (Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni), aren't fazed. They plan a new game: They'll see who can keep his or her finger under burning hot water the longest.

Dad (Christos Stergioglou) returns home from work, bringing a young woman named Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou). She goes into the boy's room and has mechanical sex with him, then leaves. The two sisters greet her as one might greet a cleaning woman.

The non sequiturs continue. The brother (none of these characters have names) speaks to someone invisible through the hedge. A plane buzzes overhead, and Mom (Michele Valley) encourages the kids to run and catch it if it falls. A wandering cat in the yard inspires bloodcurdling terror.

The more the film progresses, the more it becomes clear that the rules of this family are not our rules. The parents know this — it's by design. The kids, raised in isolation, do not. By the end, the teens' struggle to achieve independence — and their parents'  countermeasures — will have led to genuinely disturbing transgressions against everything most of us consider "natural" and "right."

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Vermont Filmmakers Contribute to CNBC Doc on Mac Parker

Posted By on Tue, Jul 15, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Mac Parker - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mac Parker

Followers of the Mac Parker saga, which Seven Days and other local news outlets have covered extensively for the last several years, have come to expect curveballs. The most recent development is less of a headline-grabber, but one that will likely lend some context to the fascinating story of this man's alleged criminal activities. Two Vermont filmmakers have contributed to a new, soon-to-be-broadcast documentary that details the tale's strange twists and turns.

Rob Koier, the director of the 2012 documentary Strength of the Storm, and Mark Covino, co-director of the music doc A Band Called Death, are developing a full-length film about Parker. For now, some of the footage they've shot will appear in an episode of the long-running CNBC series "American Greed." The deal to license the footage was struck in January, and the episode will air later this week.

Parker, an Addison County-based storyteller, was convicted of defrauding investors of $28 million to fund a putative film project called Birth of Innocence. Most of the money was reportedly funneled to Parker's "silent partner" and former spiritual guru, a Connecticut man named Louis Soteriou. Soteriou has been sentenced to seven years in prison; a judge recently upheld Parker's own 55-month sentence for his part in the fraud scheme.

The footage that Covino and Koier licensed to CNBC originates from three lengthy interviews that Covino shot with Parker in October 2013. In the first, Parker told the filmmakers about his background; the second, clocking in at seven hours, finds Parker discussing Birth of Innocence and his ensuing legal troubles. The third interview, says Covino, wasn't even intended to be an interview — just some shots of Parker arriving at prison in upstate New York.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

What I'm Watching: Hell in the Pacific

Posted By on Sat, Jul 12, 2014 at 8:11 AM

  • MGM Pictures

More than 20 years ago, I recall my film-nerd friend Bill recommending to me John Boorman’s 1968 film Hell in the Pacific. Bill has good taste in films, so I filed away his suggestion. Perhaps 10 years later, I found a used DVD of the film for a few bucks, so I picked it up. It languished on my shelf for another decade, unwatched until a few nights ago, when my wife went to sleep early. (I suppose I shatter no gender-role stereotypes here: When my wife is asleep or out of town, my cinematic choices tend toward war films and Westerns.)

Not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse that I can recount my personal history with most of the DVDs in my collection.

In any case, it’s a shame that it took me so damned long to get to Hell in the Pacific, as it’s a pretty fascinating film for a number of reasons. For one thing, there are only two people in its cast, and they’re both world-class screen actors: Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. Each man plays a soldier — of the Allies and the Axis, respectively — who, after undisclosed oceanic wartime disasters, happens to wind up on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. (Coincidentally, both men served their respective countries in World War II.)

I can think of only one fiction film with a cast smaller than this one (though I’m sure there are plenty that aren’t coming to mind): Robert Altman’s fascinating and little-seen Secret Honor (1984), in which the great Philip Baker Hall plays a delirious, rambling Richard M. Nixon. 

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: The Missing Picture

Posted By on Fri, Jul 11, 2014 at 6:57 PM

  • Strand Releasing

This week in movies you missed:
 In our world of omnipresent cameras, it's hard to believe that a regime could starve and slaughter millions of people and leave little direct evidence of its atrocities on film. But that's what the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Among its victims were the family of Rithy Panh, this film's director, who was then 11 years old.

Panh made this documentary to fill in history's "missing pictures" with those he carries in his memory. He uses clay figures and dioramas to illustrate deportation, forced labor, "re-education" and genocide, supplementing these images with existing documentary footage (much of it from Khmer Rouge propaganda films). The Missing Picture earned an Oscar nomination last year for Best Foreign Film and was honored in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2013.

What You Missed

Voice-over narration by Jean-Baptiste Phou (in the English-language version) tells Panh's story. It starts with tableaux of Phnom Penh in the early '70s — a lively city where young Panh, whose father teaches school, visits film studios and marvels at the beautiful actresses.

On April 17, 1975, the communist revolutionaries take the city. They herd the urban dwellers onto transports and bring them to the countryside, leaving the city a wasteland. They take their possessions and dye their clothes black. They force them to abandon modernity and work the land on starvation rations. They take away pens and eyeglasses. They control every aspect of their lives.

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