“That’s not true. Mario’s just a fat plumber. Harry Potter is a wizard.”
“That’s not true. Mario’s just a fat plumber. Harry Potter is a wizard.”
Outside it’s a winter wonderland right now, as today’s early morning view from my front porch shows. But inside in the evenings all is right in the world. In an unexpected twist, I’ve taken to drinking my beloved Manhattans on a giant rock. This all came about because the lovely Diana Prince has issues with stem wear, which means she often opts for Old Fashioneds at cocktail hour, which is fine with me normally, but sometimes I just gotta have Manhattans and I don’t want to make two different kinds of drinks. The solution to this is to put Manhattans in a tumbler, an idea I’ve scoffed at in the past, but as it turns out if they’re in a tumbler and on a giant rock they stay perfect longer and don’t get watered down. And I don’t drink them like shots, which is probably a good thing.
Over the years, I have read tons of books with my nine year old daughter that I love for reasons of sentimentality (The Monster at The End of This Book) and/or nostalgia (The Batman Chronicles, etc.). And I see why she likes things such as The Diary of A Wimpy Kid, Zita the Space Girl, Big Nate, Mouse Guard, and the Harry Potter series, all of which I would’ve devoured had they been around when I was coming of age as a reader. But while we share a love of reading, we haven’t yet shared a love of reading the same things, though given her love of age appropriate graphic novels and narrative fiction, I’ve long figured it’s only a matter of time. And lo and behold, she recently started reading Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which is dark, offbeat, scary, and utterly magical. And now that time has come and life just got better.
My annual ongoing review of summer movies got off to a bang this year (Part 1: Man of Steel & Part 2: This is the End & Monsters University), before being stopped cold by the interruption of the most insanely busy four month stretch of work I’ve ever had in my life. Between making American Lawn and an unusually intense number of high pressure, time sensitive institutional tasks, I had to cut my extra-curricular activities to the bone, and so I did. But I never stopped going to the movies, even as I didn’t see as many as I normally do. It’s just something I love doing too much to ever give up; for me they are not only escapist entertainment, but intellectual stimulation, artistic inspiration, salve, therapy and any number of other things as well. Thankfully, that magical moment that for so long seemed so far in the distance—in which the brutal torrent would at long last give way to normalcy—has finally arrived and so now I’ll be catching up via a series of short micro reviews of 100 words or less.
Elysium is an over-long mish mash of recycled sci-fi tropes that goes nowhere. Matt Damon is characteristically solid, but Jodie Foster utilizes a cryptic accent that had me laughing out loud almost every time she spoke. In fact, she was so bad she might have been good. I can easily imagine a future in which her campy performance garners a cult following as a result of endless airings of Elysium on TNT. I wanted much more than I got from Neill Blomkamp’s follow up to District 9. As it turns out, it isn’t better up there at all.
As a life long comic book junkie, I have a low bar where super hero movies are concerned; I am predisposed to like them, so just don’t bore me and show me something I haven’t seen before and we’re good. Train-top fight scenes are as old as the movies, but James Mangold’s The Wolverine showed me a thrilling one atop a bullet train that I’d definitely never seen before. But despite some intriguing moments, most of the rest of the damn movie bored me to tears, despite Hugh Jackman continuing to kill the role.
It’s rare that a movie recovers from the blood in the water that comes with a highly publicized troubled production, but Marc Forster’s World War Z did exactly that. In addition to a terrific performance by Brad Pitt, it’s the pacing that makes this movie. Unlike the non-stop bombast of its summer brethren, WWZ alternates between terrifying action sequences and moments of repose that steadily build the anticipation. The climax is remarkably quiet and unbelievably tense. And I’d certainly never seen roiling tidal waves of zombies before. It’s one of the best zombie movies ever, and easily the scariest since 28 Days Later.
You can read the first Thanos and Darkseid here.
The fact that my finding this hilarious reveals just how lonely and dorky my middle school years were does not make it any less hilarious.
Every year on Thanksgiving I take my kids to see a movie after the feast. It’s the one day a year you can be sure there will be a new kids’ movie in the theatre and it’s a nice tradition that they love. And so do I. Yesterday they asked me what we’re going to see this year, and I told them Frozen, the new Disney animated movie, and asked if they wanted to see the trailer, and of course they did. So we Googled it and when we clicked to play it an advertisement came up first and my nine-year old daughter said, “Dad, why would they make us watch a commercial before a commercial?” It’s a question I still can’t answer.
So you’re telling me that they’ve made a Disney movie about the making of a Disney movie that is one of my favorites from childhood and that my own children have subsequently come to love? And you’re also telling me that Tom Hanks is playing Walt Disney? I’m all in. Don’t judge me.
Last Friday night (11/8/13), American Lawn was the opening film of the 40th Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. It was one of the best festival experiences I’ve ever had and it was an unbelievably satisfying way to open up American Lawn’s festival run. Festival Director Thomas Phillipson took amazing care of the filmmakers, including putting us up for the weekend at The Crystal Hotel, which is in a Flatiron style building located at the nexus of awesomeness in downtown Portland. Jake’s Famous Crawfish, a Portland institution and one my favorite places, is on one side, while across the street is a sex shop, so that every time I looked out the window of the room mannequins all dressed up for a good time appeared to be looking at me. And Powell’s City of Books is just down the street to boot. I was able to park the car in a parking garage and not think about it again until I left. I walked all over that city! Additionally, there’s a saltwater soaking pool in the Crystal’s basement of which I made liberal late night use.
The screening of the Shorts I Program took place at 7PM on Friday at the Whitsell Auditorium inside the Portland Art Museum. It’s a spectacular space and it seats just under 400 people. It was completely packed and there were people standing and watching on both sides in the back. It was like the opening night of a play—there was a palpable buzz in the air and you could just tell people were really excited to see the films. The anticipation just about killed cinematographer Jess Lawrence and I, especially knowing we were going to be the first film of the festival.
Shortly after 7, Thomas came up and gave a brief speech welcoming the crowd and thanking the sponsors and then the lights went down and we were on. That moment of darkness when you know you’re up is exhilarating and terrifying all at once. You make movies to be seen by audiences, but a million things can go wrong and it’s hard not to worry about them. The scariest part of any festival screening, even more than flopping, is technical difficulty, especially when you’re screening from a digital file, which we were. It was freaking spectacular! The image was vividly sharp and the colors were gorgeously saturated and the sound was plenty loud and crystal clear. We had played the finished film to private audiences twice before and while they were both good experiences, you just don’t know what you have until your movie plays for a crowd of strangers who have no familiarity with you or anyone in your movie. It’s like live blind peer reviewing—you know whether it’s working or not as it’s happening. And man, did it work! People laughed from start to finish and Jess and I sat there with big stupid grins on our faces, just as happy as we could be. And once it ended, the stress of not knowing what was to come was gone—for the rest of the fest we could immerse ourselves in other films and get to know a lot of other filmmakers, which is exactly what we did.
In addition to its embrace of short filmmaking, one of the things I adored about the NWFF and wish other festivals did is its mixed genre programming. When you see shorts at other fests you either see one or two play before a feature or you see shorts blocks in thematic groupings: doc blocks, comedy blocks, animation blocks, experimental blocks, etc. Conversely, at the NWFF the shorts blocks, as programmed by Sundance Senior Shorts Programmer Mike Plante, were entirely mixed and all genres played together, which resulted in my being exposed to a bunch of films I might not have otherwise seen, which was a really great thing. I especially liked Lewis Bennett’s Hey Vancouver, This is You on Craigslist, Adam Sekuler’s In Transit, Adrienne Leverette and Rob Tyler’s Nemo, and Anna Sandilands and Ewan McNicol’s The Roper, which was my favorite of all the films I saw.
On Saturday morning/afternoon there was The Northwest Filmmakers’ Un-Conference, which was a BarCamp style conference. I’d never been to one of these before, but it was pretty neat. We spent the morning coming up with topics and then creating sessions that were spaced out over different time slots. It seemed like a hot mess while it was being organized, but Thomas told us to trust him and that everything would come together seamlessly, and he was right. Everything was filmmaker generated and then the sessions, though technically organized by themes, organically went in the directions the participants wanted them to go. It was pretty interesting and I met a lot of cool folks!
About my only complaint is that I wasn’t able to stay on Sunday, during which I could have seen some features and another shorts block. But work called, and so home I came. But it was a fantastic experience and such an honor to have had American Lawn selected for inclusion at the NWFF. Jess and I are so lucky to be a part of the vibrant filmmaking community up here in the great Northwest! And now American Lawn goes dark for a couple of months, as it’ll be a while until we start hearing back from other festivals and a longer while still until we start playing at them. But what a start we’ve had!
This Friday night, November 8th, our new doc short, American Lawn, will be playing at the 40th Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival at 7:00PM in The Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium inside of the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon. This year’s Festival Judge is Sundance Film Festival Senior Shorts Programmer Mike Plante and we couldn’t be more happy to have been selected for inclusion! Both myself and cinematographer Jess Lawrence will be in attendance and participating in the Q & A after the showing. While we tested different cuts innumerable times and have twice played the final version for private audiences, this will be its first public festival screening. This is a fantastic festival (Sterling Hallard Bright Drake played there last year) and a great place for American Lawn to make its debut. It will be more than a month after this before we start hearing back from other festivals, but this is an auspicious beginning for what we hope will be a long festival run.
We are the first film in Shorts I, so we are essentially opening the festival, which is both rather awesome and kind of terrifying! Again, the screening is at 7:00PM on Friday, November 8th in Whitsell Auditorium in the Portland Art Museum. Tickets can be purchased here and also at the door for $6 to $9. If you’re in the Portland area come on out and see a wildly diverse slate of independent short films and then join us for the opening night party at the Broadway Metroplex immediately afterwards!
Like the rest of America, over the years Bedford Falls has worked hard to make Halloween safe and fun for kids. For the most part it has been successful as all the downtown businesses hand out candy as do the students in the dorms at Bedford Falls U. Additionally, the local YMCA has a free event with games and an indoor maze and plenty of candy. It’s rather nice, but there’s an antiseptic quality to it all. Having never known anything else, I’m sure contemporary kids are fine with it, but as I grew up in an era in which trick or treating exclusively meant knocking on strangers’ doors, I can’t help but feel a little curmudgeonly about it.
And so this year I talked my kids into for the most part skipping the organized events and instead going door to door and seeing what comes of it. In particular, in Bedford Falls there are two parallel streets on which there’s big old turn of the century houses and the folks who live in them are predominately gray haired, meaning they remember Halloween from back in the day and they do it up right. Many of the houses are dressed up as haunted and the ones that aren’t still have the porch lights off and candle-lit pumpkins adorning their steps. If you are 6 & 9, as my kids are, and have only ever had people hand you candy as you walk by a booth or a place of business, it’s rather intimidating, which is exactly as it should be.
My kids both wanted me to walk up to scary doors with them, but of course I refused. ”You want candy?” I asked. ”Take a chance and see what happens!” They got into the spirit of things quickly enough and we spent two and a half hours going up and down both streets and it was awesome. My daughter was a fantastic Batgirl and my son was the Pokémon character Pikachu, which proved rather hilarious. All the kids kept telling him what a great costume he had, while all the old people answering doors kept asking, “And what are you supposed to be again?”
We came home tired and happy and watched Pixar’s Toy Story of TERROR! which I had DVRd and saved specifically for post-trick or treating on Halloween night. Both kids then proceeded to have full on meltdowns—crying, screaming, yelling, and carrying on as though possessed—before passing out cold and sleeping soundly until the next morning. Best. Halloween. Ever.
The only bad part about this time of year is that it’s the last gasp before months of pure hell, but what a magnificent, glorious gasp it is, as evidenced by the shot above from my front door. And then there’s there the corn maze, which I’ve written about before. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a city kid and had never heard of a corn maze before I moved to Bedford Falls or what, but man I love it and so do my kids. And there’s nothing better than watching your kids going hog wild on a corn cob cannon. If this is the cost of what comes next, I’ll pay it every time.
“If Breaking Bad held up a dark mirror to the psyche of the American male in the early years of the 21st century, Eastbound & Down is the fun house mirror version of the same image. It’s no less insightful, it just comes laced with one-hitters, F-bombs, and whatever the hell Stevie Janowski is.”