A year and a half ago, the two former law students [the founders of the festival] got the idea to start up their pro-American film festival after they saw that their local theater in Little Rock, Arkansas, was screening only two movies: Frida, about a "communist artist," and Moore's Bowling for Columbine.
"Where were the films for normal people?" Ellen Hubbard asked.
Sadly, not at the AFR.
Throughout the festival he was reminded of Moby Dick (with Michael Moore being the titular character and many of the event attendees taking on the role of Ahab), witnessed many instances of unusual cause and effect analyses, and a bunch of not so great films, but he also saw one or two well-done pieces, and evidence of cultural cross-pollination between the two ends of the political spectrum. He came away with hope that there is at least hope of common ground for discussion between the sides, and where there is discussion, there is hope that each side can come away with at least a slightly better understanding of the other.
Yes, it's a film fest for the conservative right wing. In case you're concerned that they're not really conservative or right enough for you, take heart in that one of their major sponsors is WorldNetDaily, that chronicler of all things wrong with everyone but you! One of today's featured stories on WND? "Did N.Y. Times engineer same-sex marriage?"
One of the festival's ad lines? "Join us for the first and only pro-American film festival in the country." From their "About the AFR" page:
For the good or bad, in today's America, the film industry profoundly influences the pace and direction of American cultural life. Our movie screens have now become the primary front in the cultural war waged between the traditional and the modern, the spiritual and the secular.
For far too long, the film industry has used its influence to create movies advancing a world view that derides patriotism, faith, and traditional American values. But for filmmakers and movie-goers alike, the AFR offers an opportunity to consider film works encompassing a view of America that represents pride, humility, and appreciation for our great nation.
For a list of the amazing films you can view from September 10 - September 12, check here. The VIP Festival Pass is only $40 per person.
Stepping out of character and back into my own persona now. Ugh. The top-listed film is "Against Nature," a "provocative documentary" about how environmentals are destroying the world. There's also a documentary about the profound world-wide impact of "The Passion of the Christ." And as an added bonus - an entire film about Ann Coulter! My head might explode.
Among the actors being chatted up at Toronto as potential Oscar nominees are Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), Liam Neeson (Kinsey), Jamie Foxx (Ray - I've seen the trailer, and this one looks great) and Kevin Spacey (Beyond the Sea). No mention was made in the Reuters article of actress nominees. What's up with that?
The Washington Post nodded to the same actors, but also gave notice on some of the actresses. Annette Benning was noted to have "drawn high praise" for Being Julia, but this note was made external to the Oscar commentary. The women in the same sentence as "Oscar" were Joan Allen (Yes) (I think she's just fabulous) and Laura Linney (Kinsey and also P.S.).
The Girl, FMB and I got to the theater at 7:15 for the 8:00 show to secure the perfect seats, which was successfully accomplished. We've been waiting since last December, when we first saw the trailer in the exact same theater, when we were there to see The Return of the King. We were at the Loews Boston Common, in theater 2, which is one of the giant seating capacity, enormo-screen theaters, with the best sound in town. We were in the center, right behind the aisle, so there was no one in front of us and we had a railing on which to prop our feet. And the crowd continued in until the house was full of geeks, gayboys and lesbos. I felt so at home! Then the film commenced.
It had me from the opening credits. Everything was perfectly retro with a high-tech edge. It's what the sci-fi filmakers would have created in the early days if they only had the technology to match their endless imaginations. The lighting, the music, the sound quality, the dialogue, the twists and turns. Giovanni Ribisi's stunned declaration, "Shazam!" and his collection of Buck Rogers comic books. It's set circa 1938, only different. It comes complete with background showings of the hit movies of the time, a Brownie camera, experimental ray guns, visuals of radio waves travelling across the countryside in visibly expanding rings, and camera movement across the world as a giant topographic map with the countries labeled and the compass directing the way.
Jude Law is Sky Captain, flying ace extraordinaire; Gwynneth Paltrow is Polly Perkins, girl reporter; Giovanni Ribisi is the early cool geek inventor, complete with sexy workings of his slide rule and protractor, impressive mental calculations and technobabble to beat the band; Laurence Olivier makes an awe inspiring appearance (via archive footage); and Angelina Jolie is Frankie Cook, Captain in Her Majesty's Navy and commanding officer of an elite unit. Wow, is she perfect. Her clipped accent is nothing like the also perfect one in Tomb Raider, and she's totally commanding. As Polly Perkins says, "She's quite a girl." I'll say. At one point I was thinking that Frankie is the Military Jane West to Polly's Career Girl Barbie. Although to be fair to Polly, she's got quite a bit of both Nancy Drew and Lois Lane in her as well.
Frankie is the central figure in the ultimate wow-factor sequence of the entire film. I won't give it away, but you'll know it when you see it. Many of us burst into applause at its climax. And we all applauded when the end credits began rolling. As we were standing up to exit, the leatherman behind us said that he had a sudden craving for Ovaltine and Winstons.
I can't wait to see this again, and I will no doubt put myself on the preorder list as soon as it's available. Grab your friends and head down to whatever local cineplex has the biggest screen and the best sound system. Get some popcorn, sit back, and let yourself be taken on a fabulous ride of futuristic nostalgia.
Reality Check: FMB loved it as much as I did, but she and The Dark Lord also played Darth Vader's Theme as the music to accompany their first entrance as husband and wife at their wedding reception. And she can speak Elvish.
Two quotes from The Girl:
"Oh my god, I'm embarrased to be seen coming out of the theater with all these geeks. I mean come on - look at them all!"
"I'm never going to another one of these goddammed movies with you two again."
But I heard her laughing a few times. She just won't admit it.
Speaking of Kevin Smith, he wanted this to be the tagline for the Jersey Girl promos: "You'd have to be a totally jaded dick not to like this movie." While I probably would have phrased it differently, I totally agree.
Jersey Girl is the story of single dad Ollie Trinke (Affleck) and his 7-year-old daughter, Gertie (Raquel Castro). This is a romantic comedy of sorts (including good use of the Big Chase Scene), but while there is some grown-up romance early between Ollie and Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez), his wife who dies in childbirth, and later between Ollie and Maya (Liv Tyler), the local video store clerk, the real romance is between Ollie and his daughter, as they each learn how important they are to each other, and what sacrifices each would make to ensure the other's happiness.
Also providing substance is George Carlin as Ollie's dad and to some extent his conscience. Plus there are a number of cameos, as in any Kevin Smith project.
Pick up the DVD and a box of tissues - you'll need them a number of times.
Reality Check: The Girl liked this one as well. She was still blowing her nose an hour after the end credits. Of course whenever we watch something that makes one of us cry (happy or sad tears), we have to check with each other to make sure we're not alone in the sappiness. We were in this one together.
Tom Cruise is a fully detached hit man, Jamie Foxx is a temporary cab driver in his 12th year, Jada Pinkett Smith is a US Attorney and Mark Ruffalo is an LA narcotics cop in this introspective action thriller. The camera work is great, the pacing is nicely balanced between quiet transitions and fast-moving shootouts, and the soundtrack is worth purchasing.
Reality Check: The Girl liked it as well. "Much better than The Bourne Supremacy."
It was okay. The filming was lovely, the costumes divine, the acting marvelous. But I just couldn't seem to get a grip on the main characters. They were either one-dimensional or not fully explained, particularly in the timeframe transitions. Too much was left out. Perhaps the film originally clocked in at 4 hours and they had to trim out the secondary character development to bring it down to 2.5 hours. Reese Witherspoon was excellent, but it was as if the character were all surface and no depth. Or the depth was there, but I just never got a sense of what lay at the bottom.
I wanted to like the character, but I couldn't fully embrace her. At times she seemed just full of fire and life, strong and ready to take on the world despite the limits placed on her by the times and the strictures of British society. At other times she was desperate and grasping, but then she'd do something that would put her squarely in the caring, compassionate and altruistic.
There were lots of good moments, though, particularly during her friendship with Aunt Tilly. I'll hold on to those, and count the days until 9/17, when Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow hits the theaters. In the meantime, check out Vanity Fair if you're a Reese Witherspoon fan or you enjoy stories of early 19th century British society. But consider a matinee rather than full price.
- Sudden realization followed by impulsive action.
- Background music that feeds the excitement and will later bring the scene back to you.
- Long distances and/or unexpected obstacles.
- Large crowds. Participation of the crowd or assistance of friends can help as well.
- A possibility that the quest might not succeed.
- Shock and surprise when the pursued spots the pursuer.
- Bold declaration of true feelings.
- That moment when you still don't know what will happen next.
- Joyous declaration of the same true feelings.
- Wrap it up, happy ending, roll credits.
Not every good Big Chase Scene needs each one of these elements, but if you've got a good number of them, you're good to go. Sometimes they really don't have a happy ending (missing that joyous return declaration), but as long as there is a tinge of remorse at what could have been it can work out as a memorable bittersweet ending.So what are examples of movies with well-executed Big Chase Scenes?
I think Julia Stiles is a wonderful, intelligent young actor who will hopefully be on the scene for many years. Unfortunately, her talents don't fully shine until a ways into the picture, when her character becomes more multidimensional. Once her single-mindedness steps a bit to the side and lets in fun, adventure, romance, confusion and room for possibility, she won me over.
Sadly, I did have a number of issues with the rest of the film. Some of the characters were a bit vague as to their motivations, and just seemed to be stuck in to fill up space. Perhaps there was more to them but they got left on the editing room floor. I was glad that Paige pointed out how absurd it was that Eddie was trying to pass off his obviously older valet as just another fellow college student who happened to follow him everywhere he went and performed all sorts of services for him, from holding his coat to preparing his eggs benedict.
One scene which could have worked but didn't took place during clean-up time at the campus cafe where Paige and Eddie both work. Paige is wiping down tables and stacking chairs, and she is also dancing to the music on the sound system. The music is slow and romantic, and her spins and sways are graceful and sensuous, and Eddie is smitten. But it was just so not what would be playing during cleanup, and it just didn't work as far as plausibility went. It might have worked better if they had placed the scene in another setting, like at the tail end of a party, or at a coffee house with a jazz trio.
Then there's the Big Chase Scene. I've mentioned before that a good romantic comedy needs a Big Chase Scene. This one was good as far as they go: sudden impulsive decision, long distances, lots of unexpected obstacles, crowd participation, ecstatic realization and grand finish. Then came the other half of the movie. The Big Chase Scene needs to be near the end, at the pinnacle of the question "Will they or won't they?" It can be followed by brief revelation of the aftermath, but that should be brief, then roll credits. It was way too early in this one, and the rest of the story just seemed like a letdown. They peaked too soon.
But the movie was a nice diversion, and the Big Chase Scene really was fun.
Reality Check: The Girl pretty much agreed with me. Nice flick, glad we didn't see it at the theater.
The two develop friendships with the folks from the club, who also share the same apartment building. David Duchovny enters the scene as the estranged brother of one of the neighbors. Connie of course falls for him, but he only knows her as her alter ego. And hijinks ensue.
But what fun hijinks they are! Along the way we get lessons on body image, self-esteem, being true to yourself and your dreams, and why sometimes it's okay to call yourself a freak but it's not okay for someone else to call you one. And showtunes!!!! And Debbie Reynolds!!!!! I could have done without one particular call and response scene, but I'll let it slide. After all, they feature "Mame," and that allows me to forgive one edit that should have been made.
Vardalos and Collette are both fabulous, and Duchovny is dreamy and adorable as ever. Vardalos in particular brought the perfect combination of over-the-top dramatics (well-timed pratfalls, well-placed short shrieks of surprise) and quiet nuance (watch her facial expressions as the guys follow Carla's suggestion that they check out Connie's "falsies" to see how perfect they are. She doesn't say a word, but with her eyebrows and slight changes in lip tension she conveys, "What the hell?" to "Fine, I'll get through this." to "I'll get you for this." to "How can I exact my revenge?" to "Oh, thank god that's over. Now let me pick up what's left of my dignity and get on with things."
Reality Check: The first thing The Girl said as the credits started rolling was "Aw, nice!" That's high praise, especially given the central role held by showtunes. I'm a showtune nut, but they make her roll her eyes, plug her ears and run screaming from the room. But for Connie and Carla she sat through every one.
The 61st Venice Film Festival opens today, with The Terminal as the opening night featured screening. A complete listing of films in the various competitive and noncompetitive categories, with descriptions of the categories, can be found here. A single page listing without the category descriptions can be found here.
An AP story lists Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow as being one of the noncompeting films, but I don't find it on any of the listings. I'll be finding it at a local cineplex in a little over two weeks, though!!!
Here are the films in competition. The Hollywood entries include Birth (Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Anne Heche; Director Jonathan Glazer), Vanity Fair (Reese Witherspoon, Eileen Atkins, Bob Hoskins; Director Mira Nair), and Palindromes (Ellen Barkin, Jennifer Jason Leigh; Director Todd Solondz [of Welcome to the Dollhouse]).
Nominations will be announced Tuesday, January 25 at 5:30 a.m. Pacific time.
Hopefully the MPAA won't cause the stir they did last year when they announced that only Academy Award voters would be able to receive screeners during nomination season. Jurors for other awards, and Academy voters who refused to sign an agreement that they would not share the screener, could not see the films. Some awards were cancelled in protest of not having access to the screeners, which many feel severely hinders the chances of smaller, independent fims which don't have wide theatrical distribution and which rely on the award season buzz to generate awareness.
This year the Academy has announced that it will provide to its voters free DVD players which can play specially encrypted screeners. They also noted that not all studios will provide encrypted DVDs, but that some will opt for otherwise secured DVDs or VHS tapes, or screeners without security. That would seem to indicate that the MPAA has not announced any limitations as of yet. The Academy is not requiring the signed agreements this year.