The Internet Q&A as Creative Catalyst
If you've followed my exhaustive promotional efforts in the last five days, you know that last night Kicking the Seat participated in a live Q&A chat with writer/director Angelina Jolie and actress Vanessa Glodjo of the film, In the Land of Blood and Honey. The fine folks at PartnersHub presented me with this exciting and unexpected opportunity, and I couldn't have been happier to watch these stars spend an hour answering questions that weren't dreamt up in an Access Hollywood men's room.
But it wasn't all roses and exotic chocolates. The road to the chat was paved with three obstacles--the first of which was technological. I barely know my way around this simple Web site, and the prospect of having to update its SquareSpace template to accommodate PartnersHub's viewing widget nearly made my head explode (not the doing of it, just the prospect). I installed the widget in the blog post below this one, but its width far exceeded the one I'd been using for entries.
So, early yesterday morning, I got up and began fussing with Kicking the Seat's innards. The downside of doing this at 3:30 (without coffee) is that I mistakenly deleted the site's custom template, which I created two years ago. But since necessity is the mother of invention (as well as a plain ol' motherfucker), I remade the entire site in about three sweaty, heart-pounding hours. I'm still tweaking it (notice the page banners' various sizes), but in the end I'd allotted twice the text width to my reviews--meaning you'll no longer risk getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome while reading measly thousand words.
The second obstacle was a seeming lack of reader interest. I learned that there are some things that, literally, can't be given away--like a free movie poster. Granted, In the Land of Blood and Honey is only playing in about six theatres across the country, but I'd hoped to drum up some kind of participation. This isn't me ragging on you or anyone else. I was just a bit surprised that nobody showed up for my party. Putting away the Kleenex now.
My final hurdle was a lack of confidence in the event itself. All week, I've wondered if this thing would pan out, what form, if any, the chat would take, etc., etc. When the feed went live at 7pm and then cycled through the film's trailer for the umpteenth time, my heart raced while sinking. At about three after the hour, Jolie and Glodjo popped up and began taking questions. Finally, I breathed deeply.
What followed was a relaxed, informative discussion of movies, careers, and conflict, which you can check out here.
I really hope to be involved with more of these kinds of events, and to engage more of you when they happen. If you have any suggestions or thoughts on what you'd like to see, or why you didn't participate, I would love to hear them. The last thing I want is to harp obliviously (current blog post aside).
Thanks, everyone, and take care.
Fans of Incest, Unite!
As you may know, a film called Incest Death Squad 2 made my ten-best list two years ago. It's a night-and-day improvement over the original, not only story-wise, but also in terms of filmmaking. Writer/director Cory Udler matured a lot between movies, and IDS2 pops with great music, outrageous plot developments, and characters that are at once completely deranged and oddly empathetic.
The end of that film left little room for a sequel. Udler said what he'd needed to say about the murderous Wayne siblings, and I was happy to see him move on to new material. He followed up with Mediatrix, a deliciously twisted look at manipulated spirituality. With each new project, Ulder does more with less and the results--subject matter aside--are always fascinating. He has the pioneer spirit of a true indie auteur, one that rejects convention in favor of making the kind of out-there entertainment he wants to see, on his own terms.
Unfortunately, spirit alone doesn't pay for locations, actors, or wardrobe--which is why sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter are so important in fostering independent talent. Right now, Cory is hosting an IndieGoGo campaign to fund the conclusion of what is now his "Incest Trilogy", I.D.S. Rising. Full disclosure, I have no stake in this production, other than curiosity and a selfish desire to see what Ulder does next (of the recently completed script, he tweeted, "U may not like this!"). When IDSR comes out, I'll have the same crossed fingers and analytical mind with which I approach every new film.
So, if you have some spare cash to donate to the arts, or if you just like the idea of your name appearing in a film's credits (even the lowest contribution level comes with a spiffy "Honorary Producer" title), please consider doing so in the next three weeks. Depending on your sensibilities, I can't guarantee you'll won't regret it, but this critic will certainly be very, very happy.
No, Seriously. This is the List.
Top ten lists are tricky things, especially for us day-job-holding, family-raising, spare-time film critics. I didn't see every movie that came out this year. I may discover some gems that deserve to be on this list when they hit video in the coming months. But for now, I'd like to share the ten films that most surprised and enchanted me in 2011.
Scanning the titles, you may think I'm completely nuts. Many critical darlings that everyone's supposed to love and appreciate don't show up--while a couple of remakes, art films, and indies you've probably never heard of made the cut. I don't belong to a back-slapping cadre of cineastes, nor do I subscribe to their alleged wisdom. I got more excitement and spiritual satisfaction out of watching Hugh Jackman control robots than seeing Brad Pitt play the organ.
I invite you to check out each movie and then read their full, handily linked reviews. This list works for me. Your mileage may vary.
10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes Rupert Wyatt not only delivered the summer's smartest blockbuster, he also crafted a prequel to one of the most beloved sci-fi films of all time--one that doesn't suck. Backed by a team of insanely brilliant digital effects artists, Andy Serkis plays a wholly believable, sentient primate whose relationship with a well-intentioned scientist staves off the ape-ocaplypse--for now.
9. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas It takes a truly demented genius to make a hilariously profane holiday movie. Harold & Kumar has two: Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg revisit their stoner heroes in a Christmas movie that's as much about family, faith, and friendship as it is smoking weed out of the back of a mall Santa's car. This movie also gave us Wafflebot, for which America will be forever grateful.
8. Real Steel No one expected anything out of the "Hugh Jackman Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots movie". Like its rusted-metal hero, Atom, Shawn Levy's film shatters expectations with spectacular practical effects and a touching father/son-bonding storyline that plays like a cheddar-free Over the Top.
7. Absentia Mike Flanagan proves there's more to horror movies than zombies and masked slashers. His story of sisters struggling with a fractured relationship amidst the strange disappearance (and reappearance) of a spouse is pure Stephen King--minus the requisite third-act problems. Featuring a breakout performance by Katie Parker and an ending that will have you nervously dusting off your shoulders, Absentia is a wake-up call to big-studio horror.
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo It's a remake. It's based on an insanely popular book. It's a tentpole studio film. But don't let any of that discourage you from falling into David Fincher's richly textured, deeply layered story of secrets, sex, and serial murder. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are this year's second-hottest on-screen duo (see #1 for the first); their bizarre chemistry may just take you off the plot's trail long enough for it to hit you over the head with a whopper of an ending.
5. Crazy, Stupid, Love. If only every romantic dramedy were this smart! Glenn Ficara, John Requa, and Dan Fogelman turn a cute premise into heartbreaking, life-affirming story. The trailer would have you believe it's all about Steve Carell getting dating tips from Ryan Gosling in order to win back his estranged wife. But this rich, funny film is really about parenting, first love, and the hard work of long-term relationships. Gosling is a revelation here, as is newcomer Analeigh Tipton as the shy and soulful babysitter to Carell's crumbling family.
4. Potpourri Probably the biggest surprise of the year for me is Restraining Hollywood's insane dimension-hopping, zombie-apocalypse musical set at a Minnesota college. Elliot Diviney proves that one can bring back amazing art from numerous mind-melting drug trips (at least, I hope that's the explanation). Unfortunately, the only way to see it is to buy it, but thirteen bucks for enlightenment is a hell of a bargain, especially in a down economy.
3. Warrior A powerhouse of both acting and directing, Warrior turns ultimate fighting into a tense family drama that left my heart in shreds. Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Morrison are spectacular, but Nick Nolte is the year's biggest, most understated surprise. Gavin O'Connor's masterpiece of hard-fought redemption and the untidy consequences of alcoholism offers as many weepy gut-punches as triumphant adrenaline rushes.
2. Midnight in Paris Woody Allen's light tribute to the city of love and the great artists of the Twentieth Century reads like The Twilight Zone but plays like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Owen Wilson brilliantly channels Allen as a stunted screenwriter visiting Paris on the eve of his wedding to a cold elitist. A chance late-night stroll leads him into a world of culture and spiritual awakening that may or may not be his mid-life crisis bursting out of his skull. With crackling dialogue and funny, unexpected performances all around, it's Allen's must-see return to form.
1. The Artist In a year of hollow stabs at nostalgia, The Artist stands out as the only major motion picture to get everything right. Spielberg and Scorsese wish they had Michel Hazanavicius' ability to channel a deep appreciation for the past into relevant, entertaining art. This beautiful, modern-day silent film runs the full range of human emotion while commenting on the way technology informs and advances creativity--even if the creators aren't fully on-board. As star-crossed silent-era actors, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo should be cinema royalty after this; their chemistry and commitment is the best I've seen in years. The Artist will not only change the way you look at movies, old and new, it will change your idea of what movies can be.
I'm Mildly Obsessed with a New Podcast
In September, my dear friend, Andy, started a blog called My Cultural Obsessions--a virtual soapbox for venting about matters both trivial (the state of his clogged DVR) and Earth-shattering (the state of CBS's Two Broke Girls).
Not content, I guess, with the written word, he and his fiancée, Missy, broke onto the podcasting scene this week with a breezy, twenty-five-minute show called Missy and Drew's Movie Marathon. In their debut episode, they discuss four recent home video releases, including Sucker Punch, Bad Teacher, Hanna, and Crazy, Stupid, Love.*
As first podcasts go, this one's pretty solid. Despite a lack of intro music** and the occasional edit-jump, Movie Marathon sounds great. Our hosts don't sound like they're broadcasting from inside a Wal-Mart bathroom, and I was surprised at how much these novices made their first foray into podcasting seem like the easiest, most natural thing in the world.
Technical proficiency aside, the two marks of a great podcast are chemistry and content. It's easy to tell that Andy and Missy spend a lot of time watching movies together and talking about them. Movie Marathon plays like a three-way discussion between friends in which the listener is an anxious mute. That is to say, I settled right into the rhythms of the hosts' conversation and was chomping at the bit to participate. Andy is the more enthusiastic of the two (I would say "borderline boisterous", but I'm working on my "No Alliteration" New Year's resolution early), and Missy offers a subdued counterweight--which makes the revelation that she's more of an action fan than her drama-loving beau a lovely surprise.
As for content, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more eclectic group of movies to discuss. Better yet, Andy and Missy don't segment their reviews too much; this show feels like a genuine conversation, rather than a bulleted list the hosts have to get through for the week.
My one issue with the show is also one of its more charming aspects: there's a "Not Ready for Prime-time" quality permeating the chat that drove me crazy. This note likely has more to do with my own neuroses than with objective reality, but every few minutes I wanted to scream about something. For example, when discussing Hanna, the hosts at first thought that this was Saoirse Ronan's first movie. Following a quick IMDb check, they regrouped with The Lovely Bones, and in doing so completely overlooked the movie that made audiences stand up and take notice of the actress, Joe Wright's devastating period piece, Atonement (for which Ronan was an Oscar nominee).
But, hey, we're all on journeys of cinematic discovery here, so please take the above with a grain of sodium-substitute.
If you're a fan of fans talking about movies, you should definitely check out Missy and Drew's Movie Marathon. I don't know if this will be a regular show, but I really hope they keep it going--and maybe even expand into other areas of the pop landscape (Our Cultural Obsessions?). Please give it a listen, leave them some feedback, and spread the word. The Internet is lousy with film podcasts, and it's refreshing to hear one that isn't lousy.
*For my take on these movies, feel free to peruse the Stub Drawer.
**Yeah, I'm a spoiled pod-snob. Sue me.