Archive for 2011

My Festival Experience

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Although it is difficult to sum up an experience that has been the best so far in my life, I can say the Sundance Film Festival has inspired me.  I now know what I want to do with the rest of my life.  I want to go back to Sundance someday with films that I write and direct.  The best thing about this festival had to the people of Park City who were in most situations the kindest and most down to earth that I have experienced.  The films I had the opportunity to see (that I would not have otherwise have the chance to) were amazing.  Hanging out with my fellow reporters and Sundance classmates was the high point.  I feel like I gained friendships that I will treasure for the rest of my life.  Lessons learned from Sundance include realizing that it takes a great amount of dedication, hard work and a group of people who want to do something that can be worthy of festivals like Slamdance and Sundance.  You have to go after your dream and not let anything stand in your way.  Another lesson learned is that Sundance as compared to Slamdance is more corporate and heavily sponsored and covered by the press.  Slamdance on the other hand is what Sundance was at the beginning.  It is more intimate, more relaxed and does not have the hoopla surrounding it.  It focuses on the art and access to the filmmakers is much greater at Slamdance.

My favorite film at Sundance is a tie between “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel” and “Beats, Rhymes and Life:  The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest.:   Corman’s World is a fascinating and entertaining look at the Hollywood producer, Roger Corman.  His career helped launched many well known artists working today including Jack Nicholson and director Jonathon Demme.  “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest,” is an awesomely entertaining look at a hip hop group that simply put, rocks.  The film I liked least at the festival was a foreign film, “All Your Dead Ones.”  This was an utterly boring and not subtle attempt to expose the corrupt and passing-the-buck nature of Colombian politics. It also features to meaningless sex scenes which I would not begin to explain or describe.

A list of the films I saw include: Hobo With a Shotgun–an ultra violent grindhouse adventure.

I Saw the Devil–another ultra violent and fascinating Korean film about revenge.

Take Shelter–a moody and ultimately unsatisfying thriller.

Gun Hill Road– a powerful and moving family drama set in the Bronx.

Catechism Cataclysm–a bizarre film about a priest’s misadventures and the nature of God.

Last Fast Ride–a compelling documentary about a little known punk rock musician who headed the group called the Insaints.

Bellflower–An intriguing and unusual love story set in California.

A Few Days of Respite–a quiet and cute foreign film featuring two gay men who seek shelter in Iran.

Ticket To Paradise–a two thumbs down effort about teens trying to escape their harsh existence in early 1990s Cuba.

Super Heroes–this is a Slamdance film, very entertaining film about real life super heroes.

CoDependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same–a funny, engaging tale about a lesbian seeking love in New York.

Real Life Superheroes

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Donning capes and masks these grown adults appeared as if they were getting ready to go trick or treating. Calling themselves “real life superheroes”, they seemed a little dorky at first.  The individuals featured in this documentary (written and directed by Michael Barnett) believe it is their duty to patrol the streets, fighting crime and picking up the slack that the police and other government institutions leave behind. As we follow the lives of several “real life superheroes” however, it becomes apparent that the work they are doing is not only beneficial to society, but vital to their communities.

The tone at the begging of the film seems to mock these cape and spandex wearing crime fighters. In the first few minutes of the film we take a tour of one man’s extensive action figure collection and watch as he sings along to  the Power Ranger opening sequence on his small television. He is known on the streets as the helmet and amor wearing Mr. Xtreme,  and he is the founder and  sole member of Xtreme Justice League, a citizen’s crime fighting organization in San Diego. His apartment is shabby and his social life is inactive to put it nicely. With a pot belly and no girlfriend, Mr. Xtreme  spends the free time he has between multiple day  jobs patrolling the streets hoping to prevent violent crime. We join him on a nightly escapade to patrol a part of campus where a sexual assault had been reported earlier. Although Mr. Xtreme runs into more hostility than appreciation from the community, (a guy threatens to call the police on Mr.Xtreme if he doesn’t leave his lawn), he is confident his presence, costume and all, is a deterrent to prospective offenders.

Next we meet Master Legend. He’s a long haired, middle-aged vigilante  who likes his beer and makes his own weapons out of cardboard and other household items. After cracking open a cold one he opens up about how his father was a member of the Klu Klux Klan and used to beat him. It was his loving and supportive grandmother, he says, who taught him that he had the potential to be a great force of good.  Turning past traumatic experiences into positive outreach turns out to be a reoccurring theme in many of hero’s lives we meet along the way. The commitment these ordinary citizens have to altruistic service is inspiring.  Every night  you’ll find Master Legend like many superheroes around the world (yes, it’s a global online community) handing out food and blankets to his cities homeless. A hero husband and wife duo hands out care packages every week to those living on the streets-the cost of which all comes out of their own pocket. Many of these heros have limited means themselves and it is astonishing the sacrifices they make in order to do what they do in their communities. When finances get tight Mr. Xtreme moves into his van rather than cease operation of Xtreme Justice League. You’ll come to really admire these quirky yet concerned citizens, as even director Michael Barnett admits he did in the midst of shooting this movie. What begins as a mockumentary becomes something very heartfelt as one grows  immense respect for these selfless individuals. Overall, this movie kills apathy and kicks evil villain butt!

Gun Hill Road: A Powerful and Moving Family Drama from Rashaad Ernesto Green

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Still of Esai Morales in Gun Hill Road

In the US Dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival this year there was one movie I saw that stood out from the rest as the best of the bunch: That movie was Gun Hill Road. The film directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green tells the story of a man after serving three years in prison being paroled and returning to his bronx neighborhood and the estranged wife and son he left behind. The man named Enrique played by Esai Morales in a truly remarkable performance finds things have certainly changed since he has been gone in particular the fact his son has gone through a transformation in sexual identity that the father does not approve of or fully understand. The son, Michael, played by Harmony Santana in a fantastic breakout performance is what would be considered a transexual (from boy to girl) teen who performs slam poetry in local clubs under the name of Vanessa and in doing so attracts the attention of a young black male named Chris. The adjustment to home life is not a easy transition for Enrique as the prison mentality he has acquired still affects his decision making and further complicates his relationship with his wife and son. The film is extremely effective in capturing the dynamics of the family and strained emotions each character feels through image alone that the dialogue is just there to further the message. The film is also a great example of telling a story about a Minority household that does not perpetuate stereotypes or exaggerate characteristics but just tells a narrative that is emotionally raw and honest without ever losing the sense of realism. One scene I liked in particular was the one that took place at the park during a softball game where Enrique encourages Michael to take an at bat. In that one scene we see their relationship encapsulated: the difference between Enrique’s expectations and intentions for the man he wants his son to become and the person that Michael truly is. With a emotionally investing story and a heart breaking and unsentimental ending this film speaks to a life most people don’t get to see portrayed on the screen but one most should.

Beats Rhymes & Life: The Awesome Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

Of the all of the films I saw at Sundance one of the best had to be the documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest directed by actor turned filmmaker Michael Rapaport. The film follows the origins and career of the legendary and influential rap group from the late 1980’s through their breakup in the late 1990’s. having a limited knowledge of the group other than hearing their music, this film did an exceptional job of providing background of the members of the group as well as additional information on people who were influences on them growing up in New York City. The best part of the film in my mind was the attention to detail paid to the the group’s albums and how each differed from the next in particular the use of sampling (in case you don’t know means using beats or parts of songs from other recording artists)  that the group was known for and how it influenced other artists to follow suit. The relationship between the members Phife Dawg and Q-Tip is also at the heart of the group’s story and is a funny and interesting exploration of what fame and fortune in the music industry can do to a life long friendship. Another aspect of the film I enjoyed was the interviews with other artists that were influenced by A Tribe Called Quest as it revealed to me just how much of an impact they had in the styles of other artists such as Record Producer Pharell Williams and artists like Common and Kanye West. Rapaport makes good use of combining archive footage with present interviews of the group members to capture the mood of their work and their feelings  about the music they created. If I were to recommend one documentary to see from the group shown at Sundance this one would be it as it would be an experience that is thoroughly enjoyable and make you want to bust a dance move right there in the theater.

A run-in with the Westboro Baptist Church: Video Interview

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Becoming impatient waiting for the shuttle to stop by our condo at The Racquet Club, I decided to walk up to Eccles Theatre and catch a shuttle from there. What I found were several Westboro Baptist Church members who had traveled all the way from Topeka, Kansas to protest Kevin Smith’s Red State. (more…)

Sundance Film: The Mill and The Cross

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Polish director Lech Machewski has taken an entirely unique approach to animating Pieter Bruegel’s 1564 masterpiece The Procession To Cavalry. The Mill and The Cross, based on Bruegel’s essay of the same name, transposes the jaw-dropping, jagged features Bruegel so admired during a trip to Italy with the low flatlands of his home in Belgium through meticulous use of digital editing. Shot in New Zealand, the film merges the vibrancy of the scenic New Zealand landscape with Bruegel’s portrayal of 15th century Belgium in The Procession To Cavalry. (more…)

Sundance Film: Uncle Kent

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Joe Swanberg’s Uncle Kent is, by all conventional measures, a very flawed film- the film’s whimsical, slipshod style becomes apparent as soon as the opening credits roll. Simplistic font and visuals enmeshed with the abrasive, childlike sounds of a pawnshop keyboard coax the viewer to immediately abandon their idealized expectations concerning the film. (more…)

Sundance Experience

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Here’s our take on Sundance with some pictures to follow

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Mad Bastards- Film Review

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Mad Bastards is the story of a father’s journey attempting to re-connect with his son after being in prison for his whole life. The boy’s alcoholic mother is way less than perfect and he is a little rebellious adolescent. The film begins with showing the police at the boy’s house and his mother with a black eye, fighting with a man. One of the police officers, who happens to be the boys uncle, ends up taking him home so he can sleep on the couch.

The characters in this film were amazing and really impressed me. They all had Australian accents and had a hard, but attractive look. The boy was tan and had these amazing green eyes. The father was extremely good looking and buff, but looked tough and mean. Throughout the movie he plays a really strong, hardened man who doesn’t like to show emotion of any kind other than anger. (more…)

Magic Trip…what a trip!

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

“I hope everyone received their complementary tab of acid at the door…If not just lick your ticket stub”. This is how the film was introduced before the directors even had a chance to say anything. The story of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on their LSD fueled trip across the US is one for the record books. Their Further bus and the characters on it are a perfect example of the hippie culture in the 60s. Magic trip doesn’t only tell the story of Pranksters, but it is also composed completely of footage taken during the actual trip. This is what made the film amazing because it was not actors trying to portray these people on LSD; it was the actual people experiencing new dimensions and new frames of mind.

The film is for all the leftover hippies from the 60s and the hippie culture of today. It is for anyone who is interested in how acid became such a popular drug, how it became so available, and how people who have done it feel about it. In a world where we are constantly told that “drugs are bad”, Magic Trip gives a different viewpoint to other perspectives on drug use. I wouldn’t say that the film promotes the use of LSD, but I wouldn’t say that it demotes the drug either.

One of my favorite parts of the film was the recording they had of volunteers who were paid to take LSD and stay in a room for the whole trip with a window and a tape recorder. The things these patients were saying were not only hilarious, but also extremely interesting and mind-boggling. The person listening to these people rant about colors, shapes, and patterns would obviously think that this person is going crazy, and may even think they are schizophrenic. But after the drug wears off they are back to their old mindset, mostly. Its really funny to think that back in the early sixties a student at Stanford would get paid $25 to take LSD and be recorded. Wow how the times have changed.