Saturday, March 30, 2013

City Mouse Makes a Movie #12

Previously: The first day of shooting on CM's movie is somewhat less than productive.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

You can't stop what's coming: Terrorthon update

Page and I wanna thank everybody who's joining us for our Terrorthon next month. Gotta say, it feels good to be co-arranging a blogathon in which so many people are taking part in - I love looking around and seeing our banners on people's blogs!

This is just to let everybody know where we stand right now, and where we stand is pretty damn good: we've gotten an amazing turnout for this: twenty definites as of this writing, can you believe it? 

If you're contributing, do me a favor and check this list for me and make sure this is accurate:

Le (Critica Retro), Nosferatu
Gilby37 (Random Ramblings of a Broadway, Film & TV Fan), TBA
Caftan Woman (Caftan Woman), I Saw What You Did
Terence Towles Canote (A Shroud of Thoughts), The Wizard of Oz
Dawn Sample (Noir and Chick Flicks), Frankenstein
Aurora (Citizen Screen), The Island of Lost Souls, 4.22
Rick29 (Classic Film and TV Cafe), Plague of the Zombies 4.22
Kellee (Outspoken and Freckled), The Omen
Matt (Classic Cinema Review for Kids), The Haunting
The Lady Eve (The Lady Eve's Reel Life), Rosemary's Baby
Ivan (Thrilling Days of Yesteryear), The Skull
Jennifer Giesey (Portraits by Jenni), House of Wax, 4.20
Monstergirl (The Last Drive-In), The Black Cat, 4.20, Horror Hotel, 4.21
Nitrate Diva, Carnival of Souls
Steve Habrat (Anti-Film School), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 4.22
Barry P (Cinematic Catharsis), Mad Love, 4.23
Vulnavia Morbius (Krell Laboratories), Let's Scare Jessica to Death, 4.20
Flick Chick (A Person in the Dark), Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte
Brian Schuck (Films From Beyond the Time Barrier), Castle of Blood

As for Page and I, she has picked a film called It's Alive, while I'm currently going with the 70s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, though that may change.

Now the Terrorthon is gonna cover five days, so if you know which day you wanna post on, then let me know in the comments. Those of you who are still TBA, if you've decided on a film, put that in the comments as well. As for the rest of you, there's still plenty of time to join the party - all you gotta do is think of a classic (or even not-so-classic - we've got 60s and 70s movies included too) - movie that REALLY SCARED YOU and write about it. Talk about things like where you saw it, maybe how old you were at the time, why it scared you, things like that. You've got until April 10 to pick a movie. Good luck!

Public service announcement

Saturday, March 23, 2013

City Mouse Makes a Movie #11

Previously: Nadine, the leading lady in CM's movie, makes it plain to CM that she sees his movie as a springboard to revive her sagging television career.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Better Mus' Come

Better Mus' Come
seen @ AMC Empire 25, New York, NY

So what, if anything, does Jamaica, Queens and JAMAICA Jamaica have in common? Not a whole lot, based on what I know of the latter. There is a visible Caribbean presence here; for example, in Queens and Brooklyn there are privately-owned commuter vans that supplement the city buses and are cheaper (though not by much), and many of them are run by Caribbeans. On the rare occasions I use one of them, I always hear reggae music playing in the van's CD player. Also, cricket matches are a common sight in some of the neighborhood parks on the weekends in the warmer months. (I've tried, but I cannot figure that game out from looking at it. If baseball really was inspired by cricket, I don't see how.)

I don't like living in Jamaica, Queens. It's becoming more dangerous lately, everyone is similar if not the same, it's too far away from the things I care about, and there's little in the way of variety. While parts of it are mildly aesthetically pleasing, it doesn't compare to other places I've been to and I could easily do without it. I've never been to the real Jamaica, though, like I said, I imagine there's very little in the way of comparison.

Most people tend to think of Jamaica in terms of the three Bs: beaches, Bob (Marley) and blunts (and also, I suppose, bobsledding). Indeed, even as a kid I remember those "Come Back to Jamaica" TV ads that enticingly paint the island nation as a tropical paradise that's just waiting for you Yankees to come visit and spend your money. And I have no doubt that Jamaica does quite well in the tourism industry. However, it's also a country with a long history of poverty and political strife, and part of that history is on display in Better Mus' Come, the latest film distributed by the black film festival collective AFFRM.

Better deals with the turbulent 1970s, when Jamaica was torn apart by conflict between the pro-Castro incumbents, the People's National Party, and the opposition, the Jamaica Labour Party. The film opens with a political rally, led by the PNP's Michael Manley, disrupted by a firebombing by JLP supporters, and throughout the film, the differences between the two parties lead to everything from police harassment to fighting in the streets.

Roger Guenveur Smith as Michael Manley

The movie focuses on a JLP man, Ricky, a single father struggling to make a living, yet gets drawn deeper into the fighting, despite his best intentions to make life easier for his son. Naturally, he also meets a girl and falls in love with her along the way, further complicating things.

This was my first foray into Jamaican cinema since watching The Harder They Come way back when I was in video retail. In a Q-and-A at the Empire after the film, director Storm Saulter, along with stars Sheldon Shepherd and Nicole Grey (who was also in Restless City) made plain that even if they may lack some of the resources that their American counterparts do, Jamaican cinema is on the rise. Still, I found myself unprepared for certain aspects of the culture as seen in Better...

...for example, the local dialect. Like Harder, Better is subtitled. Watching this movie was different from watching something in, say, French or Russian or Japanese because the Jamaican dialect sounds almost like English, but not quite, and as a result I found myself wanting to watch it without the subtitles and thinking there must be something wrong with me because I couldn't fully understand the actors - and I kept thinking I should! It was an odd feeling, especially when there were times when they clearly switched back and forth from accented English (without subtitles) to a much thicker patois which truly sounded like another language, hence the subtitles.

Better is a powerful movie that takes you straight into the heart of the conflict that ravaged Jamaica in the 70s. Shepherd clearly has the movie-star-idol looks, and he carries the film well. Storm (as he is credited, sans last name) not only directed and co-wrote the film, he edited it and was his own director of photography, and his camera takes us through not only the shanties of Kingston but the coastlines and the breathtaking landscapes. We see the beauty and the ugliness side-by-side. (In the Q-and-A he mentioned that the shanties look little different today than they did in the 70s, so from that perspective at least, maintaining the period look wasn't hard.) If Better is indicative of the current wave of Jamaican cinema, then hopefully more films like this will reach our shores soon.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mr. Deeds Goes To Town

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, Jersey City, NJ

And now, five things I might do if I inherited $20 million, after paying off bills and taking care of my family, of course:

1. Travel. Duh. I was hanging out with Andi recently and at one point she was describing some more aspects of her trip to Spain to take part in the Camino walk and she said that it's not all that expensive. The more I think about it, the more appealing it sounds to me, and I think I'd like to give it a try someday, though in this particular case, time might be harder to acquire than money. Not sure. Still, this is but one of several places around the world I'd go to - and then, there are also places here in the USA I'd like to visit, such as Austin, Texas (maybe during South by Southwest?).

2. I've had this semi-serious daydream deep, deep, DEEP in the back of my mind for a few years about maybe starting a publishing company - not just for my comics work, but for my friends, too. I first began making comics way back in 1993, and I've met hundreds of other creators, both amateur and professional. For a long time, when I was a regular on the convention circuit, there were a handful of self-published creators whom I always hung out with and maintained close friendships with - talented cartoonists, all, and prolific in terms of their body of work. 

If I had my own publishing company - doesn't have to be anything fancy, either - I just think it would be awesome if I could make books collecting all my pals' work and get them into mainstream bookstores, in addition to the comics shops. It would require clever marketing and strong distribution, so I'd need some help on that score, but with $20 million it probably wouldn't be too hard, especially if I had some cool indie bookstores to support me.

3. I'd make a large donation to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

4. I'd move back to Columbus and buy a house there. Theoretically, I'd want someplace close to the downtown, and there are a couple of neighborhoods on the east side of town that appeal to me. I would get around by bike again (maybe a folding bike this time), so I wouldn't wanna be too far away from everything. Actually, there are a couple of other cities I'd like to live in as well besides Columbus; the point is more GETTING OUT OF NEW YORK rather than moving to Such-and-Such a place.

5. No matter where I lived, though, be it NYC or someplace else, I'd take an old neighborhood movie theater, renovate it, and turn it into a revival house like Film Forum, one deeply connected to the community. It would be outfitted for digital, but I'd insist on 35mm film wherever possible. I'd have the capacity for it, at the very least. I've gone into more detail about this little dream here.

There's simply no way I could be as selfless as Longfellow Deeds in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and maybe that's a failing of mine. Sure, I'd do things with my money that would benefit other people - notably my family and friends - but enacting deep, profound social change? I dunno. I tend to subscribe to the credo, "Think globally, act locally." If the small-scale things I do lead to bigger changes, great, but it's the small things that I find easier to manage. Deeds, like many a Frank Capra character, seems too good to be true, but Capra presents this story in such a persuasive manner, as if to say, "Look fellas, it really isn't that hard to be nicer to each other. Here's how." (Capra and the Occupy Wall Street movement would've had much in common, methinks.)

And of course, to Deeds' way of thinking, he doesn't see what he's doing as anything particularly grand; his behavior is simply a result of his small-town upbringing. Yes, I know that that's how we all should strive to be more like, but - I'm sorry - it's hard to imagine, especially when it seems like humanity has, if anything, gotten stupider since Capra's time. Jean Arthur's reporter character is TMZ and Perez Hilton and the New York Post and the National Enquirer in 2013 terms, and if Deeds was around today, he'd probably still be made fun of in much the same way, though I'm sure he'd have his defenders too (Deeds the movie tends to paint the entire media with the same brush).

Ultimately, I think the effort towards becoming better people counts more than the goal itself. We're not perfect and we don't live in a perfect world, and because of that, any effort to live selflessly is going to be a difficult one. (I'm sure you're all thrilled to see me reference Star Trek yet again, but there's a quote from Deep Space Nine that's relevant here: "It's easy to be a saint in paradise.") Look at the way Deeds silently suffers when his competency is called into question. Some people can deal with that better than others. I know I'm no paragon, not by a long shot, and some days it's damn hard to see the humanity in others. Still, I do what I can, when I can. No promises...

...especially when you're surrounded by idiots. I saw Deeds on St. Patrick's weekend, and though the actual holiday was on Sunday, there were plenty of revelers in both Manhattan and Jersey City acting like fools. I swear to you I saw one guy pissing on Sixth Avenue, in plain sight, in the midst of a snowfall. I was tempted to turn around and go home right then and there.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Five movie stars (and one director) who share my birthday

I normally don't make a big deal out of commemorating another natal anniversary (as Ivan calls them). Growing older has given me less reason to celebrate as the years pile on, but still, I try not to think about it and attempt to go through life as if I were still 25 and the world was my oyster. (Strange expression. What would I do with an oyster other than eat it?) But you're not here to listen to me complain about getting old (are you?), you're here for me to amuse and edify you (I think), so check out these movie makers, past and present, with whom I'll share the birthday cake with today:

- Edward Everett Horton. I just found this one out recently. Cool, huh? Eddie was always the "dandy" type in classic films such as Top Hat - and, of course, he also narrated the "Fractured Fairy Tales" in Rocky and Bullwinkle. He's always a pleasant addition to any movie; fussy, prim and a little uptight, yes, but always in a good-humored manner. Did he embody a gay stereotype? Maybe... but the kinds of characters he usually played were never embarrassing in the way that, say, Stepin Fetchit was embarrassing. I can look at a movie with Eddie in it and not want to reach for the mute button every time he appears. So take that for what it's worth.

- Queen Latifah. This one I knew about for years. Never seen Chicago, but I have seen her in a few films both before and after it, such as Stranger Than Fiction - and yes, I even remember her when she was still a rapper. I have nothing against her. It's amazing how she's been made over into a glamour girl post-Chicago; I see her in make-up ads all the time now and she looks sooooo beautiful. Definitely would've preferred it if she hadn't lost quite so much weight, though; there are more than enough skinny chicks in Hollywood.

- Brad Dourif. From One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to The Lord of the Rings, this guy's always a great character actor, especially in genre flicks. He's perfected the creepy-guy aesthetic so well that it's hard to imagine him any other way - I mean, he's the voice of Chucky, after all! I'm not surprised to see his name come up in the credits of TV shows, though it mostly seems to be as a guest star, though he did have a regular gig on Deadwood.

- Vanessa Williams. I vaguely remember her winning Miss America way back when - I've never been a big follower of beauty pageants - but I sure do remember the Playboy scandal that followed. Ancient history now - and in retrospect, it's hard to believe that we took that so seriously. I haven't seen enough of her films to judge, but she strikes me as a decent actress. Never got the Halle Berry-type roles, but I enjoyed her in Soul Food. And she's a good singer. Looks like she's gonna be in the next Tyler Perry movie, Temptation. Hopefully he'll make good use of her. IMDB says she's been getting plenty of TV work lately, including Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. That's good.

- Irene Cara. FAME! I'm gonna live for-eee-vah!

And the one director is Luc Besson. The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita and The Professional are three totally awesome films, and we have this man to thank for them. Haven't been as hip to his more recent stuff - The Lady didn't do as well as expected, but I'll probably look at it on video - but you can't hold a grudge against the guy who gave us Jean Reno and Natalie Portman.

So consider this post my one and only concession to my birthday. Any celebs born on yours?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mrs. Miniver/Random Harvest

Mrs. Miniver
Random Harvest
seen on TV @ TCM

So according to the website Behind the Name, the name "Greer" comes from the Scottish, and is a derivation of "Gregor." It's one of those old-fashioned names you hardly ever see anymore, so perhaps it's only fitting that it's associated with one of the big movie stars of the past - namely, Greer Garson. I can't say I'm too familiar with her, but I do recall having seen her biggest hit, Mrs. Miniver, back when I was working video retail. 

At the time, I thought it was just okay. I knew it was a Best Picture winner, but I still hadn't developed a true appreciation of classic film at this point, so I suspect I must have thought it too British and stuffy or something. I'm not sure, but for whatever reason, I forgot about it after I watched it.

Obviously, time has greatly altered my outlook on classic film, and seeing it again the other night was almost like watching it for the first time again. I saw it completely differently. Knowing the history behind it helped, of course: it was the movie that made World War 2 real to Americans, that made them sympathetic to the British. Even without that, though, it's quite memorable. The scene where they're all in the bomb shelter, waiting out the battle going on above their heads; that's powerful stuff - and it must have had a tremendous impact on 1942 audiences.

It also reminds me once again how different WW2 was in comparison to the undeclared Iraq war. In the mid-to-late 00s, there were a number of fictitious films that attempted to portray the reality of the combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but none of them captured the public's attention the way Miniver did for WW2. Even The Hurt Locker required critical attention and an Oscar boost before people were even aware of it. WW2 inspired so many different kinds of stories, and continues to do so, because it was so different than those that followed - Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, etc. It had an obvious bad guy and a real danger. Such circumstances are hard to imagine now, in these days where America gets into wars for, shall we say, less clear-cut reasons.

And then there's Random Harvest, a movie about the consequences of war on the individual. WW1 soldier loses his memory and sneaks out of the asylum he's kept in when the war is declared over. He meets a chick, they fall in love and get married, but then his old memories come back to him and he returns to his former life. Where does that leave the chick? This has less to do with war directly; it's more about the aftermath. The story stretches credibility at times, but because it's a Hollywood movie, you know that things will work out in the end, somehow. While I liked it, I would've preferred a more challenging resolution.

Garson shows a little more range here than in Miniver. Paula, her character, starts out as a showgirl, and it was awesome to see her sing and dance in one early scene. She doesn't get to do any more, however, once she falls in love with Ronald Coleman's character. I found it a bit disappointing that she throws away her career so quickly and easily for a dude she barely knows and who may be mentally unstable for all she knows, but that's movie romance for you.

Still, Garson strikes me as a decent actress, in the classic Hollywood mold. Very beautiful, obviously. I didn't realize until I looked up the pictures for this post that she was a redhead. Other than her song-and-dance routine in Harvest, no one element of her acting in particular stood out for me, but then, this was a time before actors were encouraged to let their Brandoesque mannerisms show.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

QWFF 2013 wrap-up: Always bring two copies

I almost didn't go to the QWFF awards show and after-party Saturday night. I had just finished dinner, alone, and while I wasn't ready to go home, I didn't anticipate doing a lot of mingling with a bunch of strangers. Still, I had nothing better to do, so I headed down to the outskirts of Long Island City and encountered the same problem I had Thursday night in trying to find the Secret Theatre: a procession of avenues and roads and lanes and drives that made the walk longer than it should have been. (I'm not sure, but I think Queens is unique within the five boroughs for this silly street-naming system.)

Once again, I needn't have worried. Planet Utero and Baby I Love You animator Faiyaz Jafri, whom I met Thursday and saw here and there throughout the fest, was at the party, and he must have liked my write-up of his films, because suddenly he was introducing me to other filmmakers and telling them about me. Which I appreciate! but didn't expect. He'd go on to win a QWFF award that night for his animation, so I obviously lucked out in getting to meet him. 

In addition, I got to talk to a few more directors and producers, some of the QWFF staff, and even a film projectionist, with whom I had a long conversation about 35mm versus digital. Jules was there too, and we talked some more about her film, 528 New York, and movies in general.

The QWFF award winners were named (Sunday was for a replay of all the winners), but the highlight of the ceremony to me was when Katha Cato made a truly inspiring speech about the need for filmmakers to continue telling their stories, even in the face of opposition. She talked about an Iranian director from last year's fest and the hell he went through with his government just to get his film to the fest. She also talked about a film from this year (Motorbike Midwife, the Short Doc winner), whose graphic scenes of childbirth caused several people to leave in disgust. This prompted a reproachful message from director Masumi Higachi which Katha read. Don Cato urged the filmmakers present to continue making "uncomfortable" movies that inspire outrage and debate.

I had mentioned the viewing problems some of the films at the Thursday night block had. There were similar, though much less serious, probIems in a couple of other films I saw, and in talking with Katha about it, she made it unequivocally clear that the Blu-Ray/DVD players get thoroughly checked prior to the fest. They go through a lot of constant use during the fest, however, which is why she always tells any and all filmmakers to bring at least two copies of their films, in case one is faulty, which was usually the case whenever there were viewing problems.

I liked this year's QWFF better than last year's. It's easy to forget that this fest is only in its third year, because the quality of the films combined with the local support makes it feel like it's always been around.

Day 1: The old neighborhood
Day 2: The Jackson Five
Day 3: Snow business
Day 4: The women
Day 5: Local heroes

Sunday, March 10, 2013

QWFF 2013 Day 5: Local heroes

The Queens World Film Festival is a six-day event which showcases films from around the world at venues within the New York City borough of Queens. Throughout this week, I'll write about select films from the show. For more information about the festival, visit the website.

l saw nine movies yesterday and they were all outstanding. Forget whatever I said yesterday about burnout. Obviously I just needed to see these films.

At the Jackson, where films by New York-area directors were showing:

"The Feed"
The Feed and The Problem With Cloning Yourself are two tales of weird science. The former is set in a future where people's brains are hardwired into a computer network called "the Feed" and centers on a doctor who gets off on the sensation a little too much. Props and makeup, plus special effects and fancy POV shots of telemetry from the Feed sells the environment well, and the story is like something straight out of Phillip K. Dick or Rod Serling. The latter film is a more lighthearted story about a young scientist who clones himself, but his clones have ideas of their own about how they wanna live. It's a one-man show, and the star (unfortunately I don't recall his name and the film's not on IMDB) does just enough to make all the clones distinct from each other without being wildly different. The visual effects are seamless and convincing, and the story is funny.

Us and Them is more of a speculative fiction story, in which "Us" and "Them" are two firmly entrenched ideological groups that the protagonist is forced to choose from. The best part about this tale is that "Us" and "Them" can represent almost anything you want it to and it'll still make sense.

"528 New York"
528 New York and Sharp Love, Sharp Kittens are two jarringly different visions of New York life. The former deals with the everyday misunderstandings and miscommunications that often divide us when living in a place like New York. Remember that girl Jules I met on opening night? This is her film. In directing a multi-cultural cast (in three days, she tells me) and writing a multi-lingual script, this looks and feels like the New York I live in. The stories here aren't as simple as good-versus-bad, and we're left with no definitive answers as to who's right and who's wrong. Harsh? Yeah, but that's the world we live in.... The latter film is a comedy, but not without insights of its own. It's a father-daughter reunion between the working-class-joe protagonist and the hipster teen. In addition to a colorful cast of characters ("McJagger"??), it pokes fun at the new class of  Brooklyn hipster culture. Lotta laughs here.

Mosquito and Pablo on Wheels both center around African-American and Latino youth, again, from opposite ends of the spectrum. In the former, it's Halloween in the ghetto, 70s style, and the title character spends an afternoon and evening hanging out with his homies and trying not to let the older boys bring him down. The young cast of kids don't act so much as be. The colors really pop in this film, and the hair, the clothing, even the graffiti looks period-authentic! A Curtis Mayfield or Marvin Gaye soundtrack would be the icing on the cake, but the music used here is just as good. The latter film's title character is raised by his older brother after his parents were deported out of the country, and though the older brother tries his best to do right, the crowd he runs with can't help but lead to trouble for both of them. Very well acted all around.

And at the Renaissance Charter School, a pair of Irish movies:

"The Native"
The Native is about a dude who returns to his birthplace of Ireland to claim the ashes of his dead father, and reflects on his childhood with his taxi driver. This was done in Lars von Trier's Dogme 95 style, which basically emphasizes ultra-naturalism and real-world stories in its filmmaking. I wasn't aware there were directors who still practiced this style, but this film certainly follows all the rules, which are helpfully laid out for the audience prior to the beginning. The actors feel natural and relaxed and the story is good.... Return to the Sea is a documentary about a tiny Irish island community where they still speak the Irish language. Split screens, still images, archival footage, Malickian nature shots and more lend an air of timelessness and poetry to this beautifully-filmed doc.

9-for-9. Helluva day.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

QWFF 2013 Day 4: The women

The Queens World Film Festival is a six-day event which showcases films from around the world at venues within the New York City borough of Queens. Throughout this week, I'll write about select films from the show. For more information about the festival, visit the website.

And now a little bit of burnout has begun to settle in. I've had QWFF on my mind all this week, to the exclusion of everything else, so maybe it's not all that surprising. Plus the weather, which turned out to be not so terrible. Looking out on the streets right now, you'd barely even recognize that there was a snow storm. So I'm a little worn out, but I'm still looking forward to today's schedule.

Last night I was at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, and I understand why it's called that: it's so secret I almost couldn't find it. Queens is notorious for its streets with numerous lanes and roads and drives - for instance, there may be a 65th Street, but there may also be a 65th Road, a 65th Drive, a 65th Lane, etc., and it gets annoying after awhile when the address you're trying to find is 65-08 Something Something Avenue. Similar thing here, only I got turned around trying to find where 23rd Street was in LIC. Even natives get lost now and then. And once I found 23rd Street, I almost walked past the venue. One has to go through a parking lot to get there. 

The building for the Secret Theatre
The place provided a small screening room, but it felt big on account of the sellout crowd. I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to get in for a moment, but perhaps the weather scared away a few people; I dunno.

Katha Cato was there, running around back and forth trying to maintain order. A quick word about the QWFF director: In the past, I've been responsible for similar public functions, and it's always left me stressed out beyond belief on account of my need to make sure the event runs the way I want it to run. From what I've observed of her (which, admittedly, is limited), not only does Katha manage to keep her poise, but her sense of humor as well - and she deals with much larger numbers of people than I ever have. Even throughout the hectic nature of the lead-up to the block last night, she still spared a couple of minutes for me. I don't know where she gets her energy, but she makes full use of it.

So last night's theme, on what was, I am told, International Women's Day, a block featuring women protagonists. Some of the films were directed as women as well. This was the best block of films I've seen at the fest so far, outside of opening night. These films looked the most polished, while in many cases maintaining a distinct visual flair as well.

Away is the first documentary I've seen at the fest, directed by Elisa Bates, and it's about women surfers out on Rockaway Beach (filmed before Hurricane Sandy). Bates interviews both newer and older surfers who talk about the heady, almost addictive rush they get from surfing (one of them actually had to seek therapy because she was too into it!). The film includes some dynamite POV shots of the women in action, as well as some footage from a Cormanesque girl-surfer movie directed by one of the interviewees. Very enlightening and quite entertaining as well.

Blooming Road is about a struggling young medical student and the goody-goody rival who gets on her nerves. Strong storytelling skills combine with good acting and editing to make another tale that left me wanting more at the end.... Noemia is a character sketch of an Amelie-like chick. Nothing in the way of story here, but a cute look at what has the potential to be a lively and memorable character.

"A Girl and Her Guardian"
A Girl and Her Guardian is the first fantasy movie I've seen at QWFF. Fans of A Game of Thrones would go for this one: teenage child of destiny with magic powers goes on a quest with her bodyguard to revive the ancient spirit of her world. Andrew Cannizzaro's film begins with a marvelous animated sequence that sets the stage for this world, Lord of the Rings-style. The limited special effects are good, the fight scenes aren't bad, and of course the costumes and makeup help sell the whole thing. It's nice to see a Hollywood-type spectacle done on a small scale; it proves once again that one does not always need to spend hundred of millions on a genre flick.

Just Another Part of Me is a Terry McMillian-like story with a major twist: single black female with man troubles discovers her problems are deeper than she thinks. The twist is clever and original for this kind of story, but regrettably, it's undone by a horribly melodramatic score and an end title that spells out The Message for you so you don't miss it.... Dimension Six is about a couple struggling with alcoholism. The non-linear storytelling proves more effective than I thought at first. It's no Days of Wine and Roses, but for what it is, it's alright.

"Vicious Ann"
Vicious Ann is, if you can imagine it, Kill Bill meets For Colored Girls. Director Jason Sebastian Williams uses free-form poetry to tell the tale of an ass-kicking (yet sensitive) heroine. Lots of visual experimentation here; split-screens, out-of-focus imagery, color and black-and-white and filters, plus frequent use of poetry as captions, and of course, a big fight scene (though I thought the antagonists made it way too easy for Ann by attacking her one-on-one instead of all at once). I'm not certain if it all adds up to something compelling - I'm normally quite wary of filmmakers who throw in everything but the kitchen sink - but it's an attempt at something unique.

Day 1: The old neighborhood
Day 2: The Jackson Five
Day 3: Snow business

Friday, March 8, 2013

QWFF 2013 Day 3: Snow business

The Queens World Film Festival is a six-day event which showcases films from around the world at venues within the New York City borough of Queens. Throughout this week, I'll write about select films from the show. For more information about the festival, visit the website.

And now the snow has arrived, in full force. All afternoon yesterday, the snow kept coming off and on, as if it wasn't entirely sure if it wanted to commit to being a full-blown blizzard, but by the time I arrived at the Renaissance Charter School for last night's QWFF block of films, Mother Nature went all in. I don't think it'll make too much of a difference for tonight except I'm going to a location I've never been to before. However, I've been reassured that it's not too hard to find.

The Renaissance Charter School
I'm feeling better. I've opted to take my cough syrup with me because I wanna be at my best when I'm watching all these movies. Last night wasn't too bad, but my throat was still kinda scratchy.

Throughout the two hours or so of the block of films, there were intermittent "blue-outs" where the image blinked out, or tracking problems in which the image went all wavy and shaky. There was a feature length film and two shorts; the first short, Splash, played okay, but the second short, Baby I Love You, and the feature, In Montauk, both experienced these problems. They were eventually corrected with a change of disc, though it was believed to be the Blu-Ray player for awhile.

"Baby I Love You"
Baby is an animated short directed by Faiyaz Jafri, who also did Planet Utero from opening night. I had the opportunity to chat with him for a few minutes prior to his film. Originally from Holland, he's lived in the US for fifteen years and has worked in animation for over twenty years, exclusively with computers. Baby was originally meant to be part of a Beatles tribute album as a "video" for the song "Little Child," but rights issues got in the way. The short features a little girl in a nightmarish vignette with surreal, horrific imagery, not unlike that of Utero. Cat (who worked the door at RCS last night and introduced me to Jafri) thinks there's more of a narrative at work in both films, and maybe that's true, but they both struck me as being much more abstract and more considerate of the imagery than anything else. Jafri stated in a brief Q-and-A afterward that some of the imagery in Baby was inspired by other sci-fi and horror films.

"In Montauk"
In Montauk is a drama written and directed by Queens native Kim Cummings, about an extra-marital affair between a photographer and a musician over a winter out on the easternmost edge of Long Island, which doesn't leave either all that satisfied. Shot on location in both Montauk and Queens over ten days, Cummings said in her Q-and-A that it took over two years to edit. In casting, she opted for actors that she said instinctively got her characters. Indeed, they only had time for two rehearsals, but it proved to be enough.

The performances are good, and there are lots of nice shots of the Montauk seaside community, including shots of deer and seals. The motivations of the principal characters aren't obvious, and Cummings admitted that she was going for a subtle approach in her writing. At one point, Julie, the lead female, mentions how she doesn't feel she could balance both a career and a family, and I was disappointed that more lip service wasn't devoted to this idea, as it's certainly a relevant one for many women today.

There's nothing worth saying about the Spanish short Splash; it's a seduction scene between a woman in a pool and a reluctant man that's neither sexy nor interesting.

Day 1: The old neighborhood
Day 2: The Jackson Five

Thursday, March 7, 2013

QWFF 2013 Day 2: The Jackson Five

The Queens World Film Festival is a six-day event which showcases films from around the world at venues within the New York City borough of Queens. Throughout this week, I'll write about select films from the show. For more information about the festival, visit the website.

The worse part about getting this sore throat now of all times is that it's the first time I've gotten sick all winter. I thought I could get away scot free for the first time in I don't know how long, especially since this winter hasn't been all that harsh, relatively speaking. (Snow flurries have come and gone both yesterday and today.) I got home last night around 11:30 or so, earlier than the night before, and I didn't get a whole lotta sleep. I'm a little better now, though. I bought some more cough syrup and tonight's schedule is lighter.

The old, but still lovable Jackson Heights Cinemas
I spent yesterday evening at the Jackson Heights Cinema. It hasn't changed much since my last visit there - in the auditorium where they were showing the QWFF films, there was a broken chair somewhere in the middle rows. I don't recall if it was there last year. I don't wanna make the Jackson sound like a dive; like I've written before on several occasions, I still have a lot of affection for this place, even after all these years, and I'm glad it's a QWFF venue, but it is a bit of a letdown after the grandeur of the Museum of the Moving Image the night before. There is a bit of good news, however: one of the volunteers said that next year QWFF will have use of the center auditorium, which is much, much nicer and looks like a proper old-school movie palace. That'll be a great improvement.

I had to hurry to get there on time and as it turned out, I was way earlier than expected. Seems there was some manner of cross-promotional deal with a local restaurant tied into this specific block of movies, and the would-be moviegoers were still in the process of completing dinner by the scheduled showtime. I heard Don Cato say that he had to encourage them to finish up and head on over to the theater so they could start the block, and eventually a big flock of people made their way inside. Councilman Daniel Dromm was there, with a small entourage.

There were five films in this block; one of them was the Italian short Pollicino, from the previous night. I wanna talk about this a little more because it's definitely one of the best films I've seen at the fest so far. The director is Cristiano Anania; IMDB says this is his only directorial effort so far. It's a silent film, carried by one actor, Cristian Marazziti as Pollicino. The Facebook page translates Pollicino as "Tom Thumb," which is a kinda dumb-sounding title; it smacks of mockery. I prefer Pollicino. It has already won several festival awards around the world.

Marazziti is very subtle as Pollicino. Much of his performance is in the eyes (no full-retard here). Because Pollicino has Alzheimer's disease, he has no long-term memory, and he relies on Post-it notes to get him through the day - notes to remind him what things are, where they are, what he needs to do, etc. As I watched this a second time, I wondered whether or not he writes them. There's no indication of a caretaker. By presenting his life straightforwardly, Anania side-steps sentiment, and by having it end on a bit of a cliffhanger (my opinion, anyway), the film has a Neo-realist feel to it. I'm not sure how a feature-length version of this would work - it might be harder to avoid sentiment completely - but as a taste of one person's life, it's utterly compelling.

As for the other films in the block: Olivia's Cross is about a father-daughter camping trip, in the wake of the mother's death, that takes a turn for the worst. Lots of Malickian nature shots mixed with flashbacks of the mother in life. Didn't suck, but it didn't do a whole lot for me either.... Suicidio Lamprea: La Balada De Simon is a Spanish comedy about suicide! Old dude wants to check out early, only he ends up fighting Death Himself for the privilege. Not as satirical or as farcical as I thought it might be; there's the germ of a better movie in here somewhere, but I felt like it was a bit scattershot, too goofy to be profound and too profound to be goofy. Woody Allen used to do this sort of thing much better.... Confidante is about a young maid whose boss sends her on an errand to check up on her estranged brother. Again, there was something here worth exploring further, but I didn't care enough about these characters.

"My Day"
My Day had a small cheering section in the house. Turns out Don Cato worked on this as director of photography and editor, as well as co-producer. IMDB says this is the second film directed by Paul Kelly (no, not THAT Paul Kelly); he also co-wrote and co-produced it. It's a two-person character study; a mother and daughter with what appears to be some deep-seated, Eugene O'Neill-caliber issues that they attempt to hash out on Mother's Day, of all days. Lots of sneering and snarling at each other with what sound like lines layered with subtext. Judith Roberts and Patricia Randell make the whole thing watchable; the whole thing comes across like a filmed one-act play you'd see on public television.

You would not believe the mob of people waiting in the lobby for the next block when this block let out. Katha Cato said it was something like 180 people, all there to see a film called Mikey Boy, which, according to the QWFF program, is about an arranged marriage in Albania. I had wanted to see it too, but by this point I had felt no better physically, and opted to go home instead. I bring it up as an example of the kind of crowds QWFF sometimes attracts. Don't let its size and relative obscurity fool you.

Day 1: The old neighborhood

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

QWFF 2013 Day 1: The old neighborhood

**600th POST**

The Queens World Film Festival is a six-day event which showcases films from around the world at venues within the New York City borough of Queens. Throughout this week, I'll write about select films from the show. For more information about the festival, visit the website.

So QWFF began a little differently for me this year. I arrived at the Museum of the Moving Image sooner than expected, even though it was around a quarter after seven. The front door was closed, so I, along with a couple of other media types, went in through the side, which led to a lot of standing around waiting for the ticket-holders to be admitted. Last year I entered with the ticket-holders, having little idea what to expect and knowing no one. This year, I was greeted by QWFF head honchos Don and Katha Cato, who had my press badge ready for me; plus, my friend Cat was one of the volunteers (hi Cat!), so I got to talk to her while we were all waiting for the doors to open.

The Museum of the Moving Image,
the site for QWFF's opening night
Film festivals are still a relatively new experience for me, but one thing about QWFF that I really dig is how comfortable it's beginning to feel. As I told someone at the after-party (I think it was Cat), my limited experience of film fests is that it's not unlike a comics convention: hobnobbing with the talent, checking out their work, and partying afterwards. And as I'm becoming more familiar with QWFF, the way it's set up, and the people associated with it, I find it's a good fit. 

The fact that it's in Queens, my home borough, certainly helps. Last year, I talked at length about the neighborhoods hosting QWFF and what they meant to me growing up. Everyone regards Brooklyn as the hip, hot, happening borough now - for better and for worse - but part of me kinda hopes Queens never gets the same kind of media overexposure. (Seriously, the mass commercialization of Brooklyn, as well as its wider implications, is something you can't fully understand unless you live in New York.) It's far from perfect, but those of us who live here know what it has to offer and love it for that.

Jimmy van Bramer
A lot of that love was on display at last night's QWFF grand opening. In addition to the Katos, who hosted the affair, there were guest appearances by reps from sponsor Amalgamated Bank and the Mayor's Office of Film and Television, as well as local Councilman Jimmy van Bramer, one of the recipients of the Spirit of Queens Award. As chair of the city's Cultural Affairs Committee (along with last year's recipient, Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was also in attendance), he's a major supporter of the arts. 

Another Spirit of Queens winner was actress Karen Black, who you may remember from such films as Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider and Nashville, among others. She's had a huge career, spanning over fifty years, with a large chunk of it spent in independent films (including one directed by Don Cato himself!). She wasn't able to make it in person, but she sent a thank-you video.

Karen Black
And of course, there were films, a sampling of the fare offered by QWFF this year:

- Heads Up. A Tarantino-esque piece in which a poker game goes seriously awry and tests the friendship of a couple of seedy crooks. Liked this one a lot. The dialogue was a little bit on the precious and self-aware side, but the actors sold it well.

- Lonely Eros. A ridiculously-brief (less than a minute) vignette from Belgium of a suicidal teddy bear. Not sure what the point of this was...

- The Tits On an Eighteen-Year-Old. The title alone should tell you what to expect here. Shot on an iPhone in Italy.

- Planet Utero. Trippy computer-animated piece. Don't expect Pixar-level work here, but for what it is, it's worth watching, and the music fits the sci-fi premise (something about a renegade clone).

- At the Formal. Awesome Kubrickian piece from Australia about the world's creepiest backyard party. It begins with an amazing slow-motion, single-take tracking shot that weaves in and out of the party with a masterful fluidity and sense of timing.

- UH LA LA. A homeless (?) Spanish couple dream of going to Paris. This one kinda grows on you. In the end, I found it sweet. These social misfits clearly love each other.

- Pollicino. Remarkable Italian film about an Alzheimer's victim with no long-term memory and how he has to make his way in the world. Left me wanting more!

Katha & Don Cato,
from last year's QWFF
The after-party was at a nearby bar and grill, which set up a room in the back for everyone. I went there with this girl named Jules, one of the exhibiting filmmakers, whom I met at MOMI (apparently she recognized me from when I worked at Kim's Video in the city). She introduced me to some of her friends, we talked about film festivals and movies in general (she's got a thing for Michael Haneke). Her film plays Saturday afternoon.

At the bar I asked for a beer and got this HUGE stein that you have to hold with two hands. Apparently, according to the bartender, this was their equivalent of a two-drink minimum. No, I couldn't get any other size. Seven bucks and it took me all night to even knock off half of it! I could tell Cat was amused by me sitting with this mini-keg in front of me and babbling half the time. I was glad I went, though. Even got to speak to Katha Cato for a few minutes. Now if only I didn't have a sore throat...