Archive for February, 2010

The September Issue

February 28, 2010

The September Issue is a documentary about the production of the September issue of Vogue, which is the key issue for each year. It focuses on the magazine’s editor (Anna Wintour) and creative director (Grace Coddington). Wintour was apparently the inspiration for the main character in The Devil Wears Prada.

The film was surprisingly engaging, especially considering I don’t care at all about fashion. I’ll give it a strong  out of .

I saw it on 1/17/2010 at the Camera Cinema Club. Director/producer R.J Cutler was on the phone to answer questions (there may be spoilers below):

  • The two main characters appear to be at odds, but despite their being polar opposites, the film is kind of a love story
  • The difference between this and his films about political people, who are verbal: these people are instead visual, so their communication is very different
  • Communication is like a mist, done through gestures and nuances, so the filmmakers needed to catch the small moments
  • Fashion is a $300 billion industry
  • How did he gain access? He just asked, and Anna agreed the first time the director met her–she had seen his earlier work, and she was ready to tell her story–she is closer to the end of her career than the start–but still the filmmakers really had to earn their trust over time
  • He started this a year before The Devil Wears Prada, which was written by a former assistant of Anna’s (of whom there are many)–Anna has way more power than the character in Prada, and can reduce people to tears just by glancing away
  • They did 7.5 months of filming–Grace didn’t let them film her for 3 months
  • The director’s objective is always to tell a story about great people
  • Over time the director and DP become characters in the film, as part of the relationship between Anna and Grace
  • This is really who Anna is, and is way nicer than her image, which is not to say that’s she’s especially nice
  • Did he have to run stuff by Vogue? He had final cut and complete editorial control (her father was a journalist). He did show her the film before it was locked, and she made suggestions, but he made no changes. She threw the film a big party and went on Letterman.
  • Vogue and Conde Nast had no financial connection to the film in either direction
  • He thinks of his films the same way as narrative films, with three act structure, etc., which led him to use the September issue as the structure, and Anna suggested it, but the director considers it a MacGuffin
  • The cameraman’s stomach was in fact not retouched, but he has been going to the gym
  • Anna has a son who was at school in England, and a mother, neither of whom appears, mostly because they didn’t affect her in the work
  • Did Anna and Grace collaborate face to face? Not really any more than what you see in the film–complicatedly passive aggressive
  • What about other issues (August, etc.) going on at the same time? Those only get worked on for about a month.
  • The film was released on DVD on February 23rd, with additional extras if you buy it at Barnes and Noble
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Me and Orson Welles

February 25, 2010

Me and Orson Welles is a film about the 1937 Mercury Players (read: Orson Welles) stage production of Julius Ceasar in New York City, as seen by a 17-year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), who somehow talks his way into a small part in the production. But what this film really is is an excellent look backstage, perhaps as good as Mike Leigh‘s Topsy-Turvy. Christian McKay is amazing as Welles, quickly letting you forget that you’re not watching the real Welles (he was robbed of an Oscar nomination). And the rest of the cast is quite good, with Efron being the weakest (but not weak) link.

I’ll give it  out of . I really enjoyed it.

I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club on 11/22/2009. A San Francisco film critic named Pam Grady was at the screening to lead the discussion (there may be spoilers below):

  • Welles was 22 when he did this production
  • He had done work for the WPA–an all African American Macbeth, and then Cradle Will Rock led him to form the Mercury Players
  • The screenplay was based on a 1993 novel
  • The sprinkler event really did happen, but during a matinee
  • Lucius was really played by a 15-year-old, but he played for more than one performance, and the actor is still alive
  • Welles did use an ambulance to get around, and made his money in radio ($1000-1500/week)
  • Christian McKay, who played Welles, was found doing a one-man Orson Welles show–he’s also in the next Woody Allen film
  • This is a very different film for director Richard Linklater, but he loved the novel
  • Zac Efron is the factor that has kept some from liking it, but Pam thought he was fine

The Messenger

February 23, 2010

The Messenger is a film about two casualty notification officers, Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) and Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), who notify the next of kin when a soldier has died. Will is new to this job, though highly decorated from his combat duty, while Tony has been doing it for some time. It turns out that while war is hard, people and relationships can be harder.

Overall I was glad I saw it. To me the performances varied, sometimes being very good and other times seeming a bit off. There was a fair amount of SpastiCam™, in case that bothers you. And I noted that I looked at my watch a few times. But still I will give it out of .

I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell, CA on 10/18/2009. The writer/director and Woody were supposed to be at the screening, but that fell through. Instead we heard a pre-recorded interview with Club director Tim (there may be spoilers below, and it’s possible that some of these notes were not from the interview):

  • The film won the Silver Bear at Berlin
  • Soldiers who have done notifications would rather go to war
  • This is a film about the consequences of war, but is not political (according to the director)
  • Woody wanted to do it from when he read the script
  • He visited Walter Reed, Fort Dix, etc. to spend time with soldiers
  • The film needed humor because the viewer needs relief, but the soldiers do too, so it’s real
  • Woody says it’s the first time he has cried for real on camera
  • The notifications are based on real cases, but the rest is fictional
  • Question to Woody re: legalized marijuana: He referred to the war on non-corporate drugs, or something like that
  • This film was actually embraced by the military, perhaps partially because the director was in the Israeli military
  • Will’s character name was inspired by a badly wounded soldier they met
  • The film was originally to be directed by Sydney Pollack–the writer/director did not originally intend to direct it himself
  • The soldiers doing this work do not have very much training–certainly not psychological training
  • There are no easy answers
  • The scene where Will almost sleeps with the girl is a 9 minute continuous take

Here are a couple of audience reactions:

  • An audience member who has received a visit from notification people said this film was right on
  • The mother of a 20-year career military person said that we hear about the numbers of dead and wounded, but we don’t hear about how the soldiers’ lives and those of the people around them are affected

(500) Days of Summer and Inglourious Basterds

February 21, 2010

(500) Days of Summer is a movie about Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Summer comes to work at the greeting card company where Tom is employed (despite his being trained as an architect), and he immediately falls for her. She doesn’t believe in relationships. Lots of good and bad things ensue and abound.

The story is told in a semi-random order, jumping backwards and forwards frequently, but kept fairly clear with screen text indicating the day number just after each jump. This lets them temper some of the bad times by interspersing the good times, keeping things from getting as depressing as they might have. But still, contrary to the advertisements for this film, it is probably more a drama than a romantic comedy, though it is the latter at times.

On the whole I definitely liked it, and I would give it a low out of .

Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino‘s latest film. To me, it had some really great moments, with thrilling colors and camera moves, and also some excellent performances (most notably by Christoph Waltz). But not all of the performances were that good, and some parts didn’t work for me at all. In particular, the scalping scenes bothered me far more than the extensive dismemberment scenes in the Kill Bill films. And the overall film didn’t feel like it fit together into a coherent whole. I’ll give it  out of .

Seen 9/11/2009 and 9/12/2009, respectively, in London.

The Way We Get By

February 21, 2010

The Way We Get By is a documentary about three senior citizens who live near the Bangor Maine airport. They go to the airport at all hours of the day and night, whenever there is a flight of soldiers coming home from or headed out overseas. They give handshakes, hugs, and even loan out cell phones so the soldiers can call their loved ones. I found it mostly good and engaging, and would give it  out of .

I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell, CA on 8/23/2009. The writer/director/editor, Aron Gaudet, was on the phone to discuss the film (there may be spoilers below):

  • This was his first feature–his background is in television news
  • The woman whose granddaughter, etc. deploys is the director’s mother–they did return in January 2009 with no casualties
  • The director and producer were working in 2004 in Grand Rapids–he brought the producer home to meet his mother that Christmas, and they learned about the story then [note that the director and producer married shortly after we saw the film]
  • Bangor Maine used to be a military base and has very long runways, so it’s a good place to enter and leave the United States
  • The numbers are up to about 900,000 people now
  • The war makes people crazy, but he thinks this is about the least political war film
  • The first rule of troop greeting is to leave your politics outside
  • The troops themselves do cover the gamut of politics, but that did not seem to be the point of the story–the point is to recognize their service to the country
  • Tim (the Club director) thinks the focus is on aging and mortality
  • The director still worked full-time jobs in television while making the film–he just kept shooting, and didn’t even look at the footage much during the process
  • They had 300 hours of footage, and tried to edit it the same way the filmmakers discovered it, starting at the airport
  • They actually went to Bill’s farmhouse and saw how he was living the first night they shot
  • There are lots of colleges and universities in the credits, inspired by the John Sayles film Honeydripper–the colleges designed local marketing plans in exchange for credit–the director would do it again next time
  • Did his political point of view change? Not really, but he has a bigger appreciation for the troops.
  • Jerry has not gotten another dog, but since he keeps getting asked that question, he is considering it
  • Started out following one more troop greeter–she was the oldest and was a state representative, but she didn’t want to talk about anything but the troop greeting, so they dropped her since the other three opened up much more
  • It was shot with two cameras with a crew of three total (the producer was usually the interviewer)–no boom mike, etc. helped people open up
  • They still talk to Bill and Jerry regularly, and the third one is his mother
  • Putting the film out themselves is harder than making the film
  • Next is probably a scripted narrative film, starting early next year [which is about now]
  • There are other groups at other airports, though often affiliated with organizations like the USO–and the volumes of troops elsewhere are much smaller
  • Nothing is going to end anytime soon, even if the destination changes (Iraq to Afghanistan)
  • Bill, Jerry, and his mom all really like the film
  • Injured troops come back directly to a medical facility

Irene in Time

February 20, 2010

I don’t remember much about Irene in Time, although as I recall I didn’t like it as much as I liked the previous Henry Jaglom-directed film shown at the Camera Cinema Club, Hollywood Dreams. So maybe it’s good that I don’t remember much. After skimming a review and reminding myself, I’ll give it  out of .

I saw it on 7/19/2009, and writer/director/editor Henry Jaglom was on the phone to discuss the film (there may be spoilers below):

  • Love overcoming time
  • He listened to his women friends and heard how important their relationship with their fathers is to their relationships with men–they either have unrealistic expectations or they have been damaged (or both), so future relationships are either attempts to duplicate that or rejections of that
  • His daughter is the one in the restaurant who gives advice to the lead
  • A therapist once told him that he married his father–you are drawn to whichever parent had the biggest influence on you
  • He considers his films “actor’s films”–he gives them lots of leeway on lines–his camera work is all about capturing the emotions–his DP calls him a conductor more than a director
  • The audience had several different interpretations of the ending
  • She learned that both of her parents lied to her
  • Music is used as a character

Next was lead actress (Tanna Frederick) on the phone from Iowa, where the film is at a film festival (her film festival, in its third year):

  • She is under contract to Henry Jaglom–she gets some annual income regardless, like the old studio system
  • This film was written for her, as well as the next film (Queen of the Lot), which is a sequel to Hollywood Dreams
  • Jaglom wrote a play for her that will be opening in September [of 2009]
  • She found the home movies of her father pulling her out of a lake after the filming was already done
  • She wouldn’t even sing karaoke before this film–she was terrified of it, but was pushed into singing in a bar, and then Henry told her she would be a singer in the next film

Away We Go

February 19, 2010

Away We Go is a hard film to categorize. Burt and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are a young couple expecting their first child. They haven’t really grown up yet, living near his parents (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels). But when those parents decide to move overseas, Burt and Verona are free to consider moving themselves. So they tour North America, visiting friends and family in an effort to decide where to live and raise their child.

The film seemed overly quirky at first, but during the Maggie Gyllenhaal segment I got into it and it worked for me. I also liked the soundtrack. Overall I’ll give it  out of .

I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell, CA on 6/14/2009. Richard Von Busack (from the Metro) was at the screening to discuss the film (there may be spoilers below):

  • This was the first screenplay for the two screenwriters
  • The producers are looking at Juno as a model (he bases this on the poster)
  • This was made just after Revolutionary Road (also directed by Sam Mendes)
  • It is autobiographical in that screenwriter Eggers‘ parents both died of cancer at the same time–he wrote a book about that
  • Eggers lived in Berkeley, so he probably knew families like the Gyllenhaal people
  • Rudolph was a photography major at UC Santa Cruz
  • The husband is a constant, but Rudolph changes and is the center of the movie
  • They focus on the externals, but what they are really looking for is internal
  • Home is where they were, not where others are
  • Making a movie about America, and the happiest place is Montreal?
  • Almost everyone in this audience liked it, though it’s hard to say how much
  • Tim expected many more of us to hate it

Duplicity

February 19, 2010

Duplicity is a fun film starring Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, with Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, as well as Carrie Preston in a small but memorable role. The plot is seriously convoluted, but the fun is watching the actors have fun. I’ll give it a lower  out of .

[Not enough detail? Remember I said I need to catch up on old film reviews? No time for more.]

Seen 3/28/2009.

Goodbye Solo

February 19, 2010

[I’m literally 11 months behind on posting movie reviews. “Luckily” I haven’t seen many movies, but I still need to get a bunch posted before Cinequest starts…]

Goodbye Solo is a very small film. William (Red West) is an old man who wants a taxi ride to Blowing Rock National Park in a couple of weeks. Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is a Senegalese taxi driver who William asks to take him on that ride. William is private and doesn’t want to talk much, while Solo can’t stop talking. Both actors are excellent, seeming like real people. The film reminded me a bit of Wendy and Lucy, and I’ll give it a strong out of .

I saw this at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell, CA on 3/15/2009. The star (Solo) was at the screening to answer questions (there may be spoilers below):

  • This was his first film
  • He was once a flight attendant
  • He is from the Ivory Coast, and his mother was from Senegal
  • He came to the U.S. in 2000
  • He was a model, but also a dog walker, waiter etc. in New York
  • He lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years
  • He couldn’t drive when he auditioned, and everyone stayed clear of the cab when he was driving
  • He went to Winston-Salem for long enough to pick up the pace, the speech, and so on
  • That mountain is amazing–if you have a chance, see it
  • He heard that the director of Man Push Cart was looking for someone, and it took 7 months for Solo to get the part–the director didn’t have much money, so he needed to be sure–during this time Solo auditioned maybe 15 times, including when he moved to Los Angeles
  • A lot of it was shot at night, often in the cab, so there were many shadows
  • Because of lots of night shooting and not sleeping well during the day, Solo drank a lot of Red Bull
  • He learned a lot from Red West (William)
  • Red West appeared in a bunch of Elvis films
  • In Solo’s culture, with an oral tradition, they say that an elderly person who dies is like a library burning, so learning as much from him as possible was natural
  • There is no significance to the date 10/20 that he knows of, other than the autumn colors
  • The film was dedicated to a woman who died of cancer in 2008, and was very helpful and nice
  • There was lots of work in the rehearsal process, taped on video, with lots of room for improvisation–but there was almost no such freedom once shooting started
  • The dispatcher was named Peaches, and was a real dispatcher
  • He will be in a play in New York about apartheid in South Africa [or maybe this is already past by now]
  • The opening scene starts in the middle of a conversation in the cab, and was scripted that way
  • It is kind of a coming of age film, since the decision to let go of William was a key moment for Solo’s growth