July 20, 2013
Much Ado About Nothing
Finally (finally?), Much Ado About Nothing, which was my last Wisconsin Film Fest Film, on Thursday, April 18. Bout time, no?
Now, tickets went on sale for the 2013 Wisconsin Film Fest Film at noon on Saturday March 16 and I got online and started placing my order right away. By 12:15, I tried to put 4 tickets to Much Ado About Nothing in my cart and was told no. 3, no. 2, no. 1...yes. At 12:15 PM, fifteen minutes after the ticket sales opened, I put the last available ticket into my cart. Color me impressed. That sold out fast.
Unsurprisingly, even when I showed up at the theater rather early, there was already quite a line waiting for the seating to open. By the time I got in, things had rather filled up. The one small advantage to going to see it alone was that I could find a single seat in the upper part of the theater. (I have a hard time watching from the lower seats at Sundance. Too close to the screen.)
Now, this is my favorite Shakespeare comedy/romance and Beatrice is my very favorite of his heroines. I first saw the Kenneth Branagh version, which was pretty great but with some questionable casting/acting choices. (Keanu Reeves made Prince John the most wooden villain since silent films and Michael Keaton made Dogsberry almost unbearable to watch.) I also got to see the 2007 American Player's Theater production, with Tracy Michelle Arnold as Beatrice. (I just missed the 1999 production, since my first APT visit was the next year, but Amy Acker and Emma Bates were both in it.)
I was not disappointed. The casting and the acting were superb, even for roles that had always seemed shaky to me in the past. Sean Maher and Spencer Treat Clark brought subtlety and genuine emotion to the roles of Don John and Borachio. The interplay between Tom Lenk and Nathan Fillion (and the rest of the watch) made the clowns amusing, rather than something to be tolerated.
Granted, one problem with fabulous acting is that it does draw your attention a little more to some ridiculous bits of Shakespearean plotting. "Wait, you are going to do what? Why would you think that is a good idea? And you? Why are you going along with him on this?" But that will always be the case in Shakespearean comedies and romances. There tends to be a few doses of "wait, what?!" in order to move the plot along. Ah, Will, we love you anyway.
Needless to say, I highly recommend it. I've seen it three times at this point. Granted, this review and recommendation would have been worth more if I'd written it in April than in August. (I'm working on that. I promise.)
Best of the British Arrows
Best of the British Arrows (formerly British Television Advertising Awards) closed out our Film Fest Sunday, as it so often does. There is something strange about paying money and spending two hours to watch television ads, but these are definitely ads that deserve to win awards. They stretch the medium, go in unexpected directions, and treat the viewer as a smart person.
There were one or two ads this year that I had already come across on the internet and one or two that I found problematic, particularly in terms of gender issues. Still, most of them were excellent. A good chunk of the award winners can be watched in this playlist.
Comrade Kim Goes Flying
Comrade Kim Goes Flying was possibly the most charming piece of Communist propaganda ever. Seriously. Western-financed but shot entirely in North Korea, this film shows a good-natured workers paradise where even the coal miners are rosy-cheeked and excited about their work. (I found myself wistfully thinking, "If only this were true.")
The film centers around the eponymous Kim, a pretty and agile young coal miner with dreams of joining the circus as a trapeze artist. Her work sends her to Pyongyang were hijinks ensue and her work comrades (including her avuncular boss) help her to make her dreams come true. Along the way, she also has a classic romantic comedy "feuding their way into love" match-up with the circus' star performer.
Cheesy and silly and fun, it was reminiscent of classic Hollywood musicals and screwball comedies. North Korea in Comrade Kim is candy-colored and entirely good-natured. The movie isn't deep and the herione has pretty much everyone routing for her, but the lack of reality and weight make it is an escapist delight, much like cotton-candy.
June 9, 2013
Dear Mr. Watterson
So, Dear Mr. Watterson was the second and possibly the most consistently delightful of our Sunday films. It was basically a love letter to Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes, with a variety of folks (including a lot of comic creators) talking about their experiences with the comic strip, and the influence that it had on their lives.
The documentary was beautifully filmed and well-edited. Unsurprisingly, Watterson himself did not make an appearance in the film, but the strips themselves were featured, along with footage of Chagrin Falls, OH, Watterson's home town and the basis for the landscape of the strips.
One of the main ideas of the film is that, even thought the strip ran for ten years and then ended almost twenty years ago, children today can still be found reading and enjoying the collected Calvin and Hobbes. The filmaker, Joel Allen Schroeder, posits that some of the credit for this may be due to the fact that Watterson never agreed to licensing of the characters, which prevented over-saturation and allowed the strips to stand on their own, rather than getting lost in the noise of plushes and coffee mugs.
Taking this into consideration, I started reading the comic to my 6-year-old nephew, via comics.com. While he does need some things explained to him, he really, really loves them and specifically asks me to read them to him. (We usually cover about a month in a sitting.) At some point, I will likely get him on of the collection books, so that he can read them on his own. However, for now I enjoy the time together, sharing the comic I remember from my childhood. (He is also very much like Calvin, in looks, age, and personality, and has his own ever-present stuffed companion animal in the form of Bucky Badger.)
I was 9 was the strip debuted and at the start of college when it concluded. I'm glad that it can be a part of his childhood, too. (It really hold up well. Only a very few things are dated, mostly having to do with telephones.) I am grateful for having been able to watch this film, without which, it might have taken me much longer to decide to do this.
May 18, 2013
JeongMee Yoon's "The Pink and Blue Projects" and Julia Serano's Whipping Girl
I have been spending a lot of time in the past year pondering modern American society's current constructions of masculinity and femininity. The "LEGO for girls" curfuffle kicked it into high gear for me.
JeongMee Yoon's The Pink and Blue Projects "explores the trends in cultural preferences and the differences in the tastes of children (and their parents) from diverse cultures, ethnic groups as well as gender socialization and identity. The work also raises other issues, such as the relationship between gender and consumerism, urbanization, the globalization of consumerism and the new capitalism." Yoon visited with young boys and girls (mostly American and South Korean) in their homes, and photographed them among all of their pink or blue belongings. The resulting photographs were highly saturated fields of pink for the girls and blue for the boys. The effect of everything gathered together in one place was startling, and perhaps a little unnerving.
Interestingly, I came across this project while I was reading Julia Serano's Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. As is usual for me and non-fiction books, it was a slow read, but it was a good read. Serano has very interesting and insightful things to say on femininity, society, and misogyny. It is generally considered acceptable and even cute for girls and women to do, wear, and enjoy "boy" things, but shameful and wrong for boys and men to do, ear, or enjoy "girl" things. No one looks twice at a woman in pants, even a suit, but a male in a dress is comic. This is because our society generally sees masculine things as good and strong, while feminine thing are silly and weak, so it makes sense to want the masculine things, even if you are female. But for a male person to seek out the feminine is to downgrade.
On a personal note, this was something I struggled with a few years ago. I was seeking out a new car seat. I found the brand and style that I wanted, but it was pretty expensive. There was one seat in that model that was significantly less expensive that the rest: it was pink. I was buying the seat to use with a boy child. I knew that the seat would work as well whether it was black or blue or red or pink. I knew that the savings was not insignificant. I knew that pink being for girls only was an artificial construct. Yet I found that I couldn't get past these things and choose the pink carseat. I was annoyed and resentful at this fact, and wanted to force myself past this hang-up. And still, I ended up with the red seat. It was a serious "what the hell?" moment.
How strong do you have to be to get past the "pink for girls"? Why on earth should you have to be strong to get past "pink is for girls"? And, given the strength that it takes to push past this stupid color taboo, why is pink still seen as weak?
The world, it makes very little sense sometimes.
Computer Chess started our Sunday morning Film Fest viewing.
While I knew that it was a mockumentary, when the film began, I thought they were using archival footage to introduce the story. But nope. The whole thing was shot on vintage Sony AVC 3260 tube-powered videocameras which, along with the excellent hair, costumes, and props, give it an "archival footage" look. It's an amazing effect.
Overall, I really loved this movie. It was awkward and hilarious and both surreal and very real. That it, I really loved it until the last twenty minutes or so, at which point it felt like it totally went off the rails. As has been my opinion on a number of other films, I think a bit more editing throughout would have made for a much stronger film. There were a few scenes that went on too long, or could have been eliminated entirely. Yet, even with it's flaws, I was happy to have seen it, and might watch it again if the opportunity came around. (I wouldn't necessarily seek it out.)
May 17, 2013
Wonderland, by Kristy Mitchell
Kristy Mitchell's Wonderland series is one of the most amazing bits of photography I have come across. On their own, many of the photos would be quite at home amid the pages of a high-end fashion magazine. However, unlike the elaborate photo spreads that grace those expensive pages, these are a labor of love, rather than the product of a giant marketing budget. I would recommend reading the story of the project and checking out the behind the scenes photos. Seriously, her gallery will blow you away.
May 5, 2013
Approved for Adoption
Blood Brothers was...almost good, in a frustrating way. The stories are stories that need to be told and heard. The camerawork was decent in a beginner way. It really, really made me long for summertime in rural Wisconsin. I can tell that Jonathan Quam has great potential as a filmmaker. This film, however, could have used tighter editing to really make the narratives come through. 30 minutes was definitely not too long, but the way the 30 minutes was used was not the best. Hence, almost good in a frustrating way. I do look forward to seeing more work by Mr. Quam in future festivals.
Approved for Adoption (Couleur de peau: Miel) was the first film of the festival weekend that got a 5 on my audience ballot. It was amazingly well done. Jung used a combination of animation, old family films from Belgium the 70s, and modern footage from his first visit to South Korea since his early childhood. The result was a powerful and complex tale of growing up adopted across cultures, the search for identity, and the meaning of family.
There was a moment, near the end of the film, when I found myself profoundly sad at something that happened and was quietly wiping away tears. Glanced to the right: tears were being dabbed. Glanced to the left: same thing. Somewhere behind me, I could hear sniffling. I am usually at least mildly embarrassed when I find myself crying at a movie, but for this I felt like I was in pretty good company, since most of the people around me were doing so, too. Also, it wasn't a particularly manipulative moment, as far as filmmaking goes. I always feel a little angry when I'm crying at something that feels like "ha ha, *this* will have them bawling". This was honestly sad, but not overstated or cynically overplayed.
Couleur de peau: Miel was a beautiful piece of storytelling, and I would watch it again, if given the opportunity.
May 1, 2013
Our second Friday Saturday night film was Little Red, a Wisconsin's Own entry.
The film started out in Milwaukee, with some very familiar sights for me. However, it quickly moved to Florida, where 11 year-old Ruth..."Red" has run away for a secret vacation to enjoy the beaches of Daytona and then see the wild horses of Cumberland Island. While there (in fact, from before her flight even leaves Milwaukee) she catches the eye of creepy Lou (played by Mark Metcalf, best known to me as "The Master" from season one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who stalks her for the rest of the movie.
It. Was. So. Uncomfortable. Even when nothing was actually happening, I was gripping the arms of my chair going "oh no, oh no, oh no..." You know what happens in Little Red Riding Hood: whether she gets rescued at the end or not, someone has usually been eaten by the wolf first. And you know how this kind of thing plays out in real life, so waves of dread where washing over me the whole time.
Lucky for Red, she is befriended by another, slightly older, local surfer girl named Kayla. Kayla joins her on her quest for Cumberland Island, and helps her to dodge Lou. The camaraderie between the two girls is believable and sweet, and provided a few moments of respite from the tension, here and there.
Metcalf's Lou is quite the wolf, and the way he played it made my skin crawl. Again, even when nothing was actually really happening yet, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And when things were, I wanted to hit him with a frying pan.
The colors of the Florida scenes were wonderfully saturated. Of *course* just about everything Red owned was, well, red. Several scenes in particular made me want to be there in person, to see the ocean and the Spanish Moss.
Trying to avoid spoilers, but the ending was one that I really didn't seem coming, and yet it was an ending the satisfied me.
It was an interesting choice to watch immediately after 7 Cajas, as I was still carrying around the tension from that first film. As a pair, it did not give us the most uplifting night of cinema ever, but it certainly kept us at the edge of our seats.
It was paired at the start with a very short film called The Evilest of Sorcerers, which also started Metcalf, and which was darkly hilarious. It made for a nice amuse-bouche.
Our second Saturday night film was the Swedish film Flimmer (which was translated to "Flicker" in English). It was very, very Swedish, and also quite darkly (sometimes literally) hilarious.
There were a number of moments in the film when things were balanced on the knife-edge between dark comedy and tragedy, and it would only take the slightest breath to cause the while thing to plunge into deeply sad territory. And yet, it maintained that balance to the very end.
Every time the "what, no?!" was about to become too much, the audience (including myself) would dissolve into a cascade of laughter at some bit of absurdity on the screen. While it wasn't exactly a film I would want to see again, it was definitely a film I was glad I had seen.
April 28, 2013
7 Cajas (7 Boxes)
7 Boxes was our first film of the weekend at the 2013 Wisconsin FIlm Fest. I did not like it at all. Make no mistake, it was a very good film, and rather exciting. I also spent most of my time looking forward to the end of the film.
The description compared it to last year's Nuit Blanche and I could definitely see where that came from. I think my number one problem with this film is that pretty much *all* of the characters in 7 Boxes drove me crazy with their stupidity. I was unable to root for just about anyone, because I just wanted them to go away and leave me alone. Even the one character who seemed to be *mostly* smart did one appallingly stupid thing that relegated her to the category of "leave me alone, you idiot!"
A few of the characters had reasonable motivations (usually involving the health and well-being of a loved one) but the methods they chose were nothing but bad. Most of the characters had both venal motivations *and* wretchedly bad plans.
My enjoyment of the movie was not helped by the fact that I was stuck in a seat right down in the front, and the movie was full of shaky-cam and subtitles, so it was physically hard to watch.
Fortunately for me, that was the lowest point of the fest, and it was all improvement from there on in.