Monday, March 31, 2008

FFF: Day 2 & 3

The first weekend has come to a close at the 17th annual Florida Film Festival and, though I'm ready to pass out after a marathon two days, it's off to a pretty good start.

I started this year's fest with a double feature of two food movies: This is My Cheesesteak and Hamburger America. It's kind of unfair to critique movies on what you expected or wish for them to be, but both of these films skirt the larger issues of food as it exists within our culture. Both films are essentially a roll call of great places to eat these foods. We can get this everyday on the Food Network and in a feature film, you'd hope for a little more depth.

A shorts program was next on my itinerary and four more features. Flight of the Red Balloon is the first film by master director Hou Hsaio-Hsien to be set outside of Asia, but many of the familiar elements are there. Also like the other films of his I have seen, I greatly admire them for their technique, but am left a bit cold by them at the same time.

On Sunday, I only (!) went to three screenings, including the hilarious Kabluey starring Lisa Kudrow and the stellar Shorts Program #3: Shuffle, which included three films I rated a 5 on the audience ballot (a rating I rarely give).

But the real revelation here is Glenn Gers's Disfigured, a movie about Lydia and Darcy--the former a member of a fat acceptance group, the latter a recovering anorexic who tries to join the same group because, well, she also thinks she's fat. What emerges is an exploration of body image, addiction, and friendship. A movie like this could have either been exploitative or have gone for the easy "rah-rah" girl power approach, but Disfigured refuses at every turn to take the easy way out. So many films that deal with serious issues pretend to explore them with any depth and end up doing so only superficially, too naive or smug or stupid to do anything but pile cliché upon cliché in the guise of saying something meaningful. This is the 7th year I've been coming to FFF and Disfigured is among the very best I've ever seen here. If the rest of the films come even near this one, I think I'm in for a good week.

Friday, March 28, 2008

No particular place to go

This isn't at all film related, but I thought I'd relay this to whoever's out there.

As I was driving to work this morning, the radio reported the weather forecast for the day, after which the announcer told us that "'Weather' is brought to you by Central Florida Toyota [or some other car dealership]." I had no idea! I'd like to take this opportunity to personally thank Central Florida Toyota [or some other car dealership] for giving us the gift of weather. And here I was blaming God for all the hot and muggy that is Central Florida.

Speaking of which (not really), the Florida Film Festival 2008 officially starts tonight! A woo-hoo!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tipitina, tra la la

"What is it about movies that explains
their amazing hold over the human mind?"

-- Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies


I've just finished reading an advanced reading copy of a new memoir by novelist David Gilmour called The Film Club. It chronicles the the relationship between Gilmour and his son, Jesse, who is so bad at school his father gives him the option of dropping out altogether and not even have to pay rent or for food. But he has to agree to one condition: watch three films with his father a week and discuss. The book is more a love letter to Jesse and the relationship between dads and sons than it is to film, but there are some choice passages in it that really get what it is to love movies. Not to like them, but to love them, and what it says about those who do:

Picking movies for people is a risky business. In a way it's as revealing
as writing someone a letter. It shows how you think, it shows what moves you,
sometimes it can even show how you think the world sees you.

People often say that you can define a person by what they say or by what they do or by what they believe in or their values. But I like to take a different approach. I like to define a person by their taste, by the things they like. Because, as Gilmour alludes to in the above quote, a list of things you like says as much about you as it does about those things. That goes for all art, including movies.

And so I propose a little activity. For those of you who read this and know me personally (which is almost all of you), know I work at a library (which is, again, most of you who also do). Recently we had a StoryCorps mobile booth parked outside our library, which allowed anyone on the street to tell their story, whatever it is.

What I want is for you, yes you, to tell me your story, but not in the traditional sense. I want you to tell it through the movies you love. What are the five movies that come closest to defining who and what you are? These are not the five movies you'd want if you were stranded on a deserted island. This is not a Sight & Sound list either--I don't want to know what you think the five greatest movies ever are (well, I do, but not for the purpose of this). And I'm not even asking for your five favorite movies, that's still a little different. I want the collection of movies that in some way tell your personal story. And it doesn't have to be obvious, you can be creative. If you work in a library, you don't have pick a movie about librarians or writers or books. If you're a doctor, you don't have to pick a movie set in a hospital. And you don't have to pick five... pick two, even one. I'm just curious as to what movies hit you on a personal level; what movies mean so much to you it becomes an extension of you, a part of you.

Here's one of mine, to start the discussion:

Sunset Boulevard may be Billy Wilder's best movie, Some Like it Hot may be his funniest, and Woody Allen was once quoted as saying that Double Indemnity is probably the best movie ever made. But for me The Apartment resonates the most personally. There is a scene--a moment actually--that is as good as any in Wilder's career. (I'll try to be slightly evasive as to avoid major spoilers.) It comes at about the midpoint in the movie when C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) opens a compact and sees that the mirror is broken. In a moment, his whole world has turned on a dime. Everything he knows about someone has been turned on its head. "Some people take and some people get took," a character says to him later in the film. And what I love is that the more the two leads describe their own lives, the more they are describing each other. Pain and personal anguish is as universal as it is specific and I don't know if there's a better movie I've seen in capturing that.

Okay, it's your turn... you'll get the rest when I hear some of yours.

Oh, and The Film Club comes out May 6.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Eat it up

The end of winter/early spring time of year is often a dreaded one for cinephiles. After Hollywood indulges in its annual self-lovemaking at the Oscars, there is a bit of a post-coital letdown where theaters are awash with usually forgettable crap. Instead of giving us films to snuggle with, the industry leaves us with the one-night stand, a series of meaningless treks to the cinema, allowing us nothing but to curb our fix. (Okay, maybe I'm overdoing it with the sex analogy, but I like it and am starting to feel a little bit aroused.)

Thankfully, though, the Florida Film Festival starts in three weeks. I'd say that the festival brings a blast of sun, warming us up from the cold of winter, but it's Orlando and, let's face it, it hasn't been cold here since around 10,000 B.C.

For many, the big name celebrities are the highlight. This year Anthony Bourdain and Jennifer Tilly will be here. Bourdain will be discussing--obviously--food and it seems FFF has been increasingly intent on introducing food and wine as a major theme in the past couple of years, possibly because they have been sponsored by various food and drink businesses and also perhaps because the main theater is the Enzian Theater, which is a dinner theater. Tilly will be here for a screening of Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway, a film in which she co-starred. Last year, Oscar-winning director Peter Bogdanovich was a guest for a special screening of Paper Moon and I could've listened to him talk for days. But for me, the real thrill (besides the range of movies) is seeing and listening to the unknown independent directors, producers, and actors (although I missed seeing last year's opening night guest Judy Greer and thus missed my opportunity to ask her to marry me). For many of the films here, the festival circuit is as far as they'll get and it's both inspiring and a bit sobering hearing the hardships and triumphs of these filmmakers.

I'm taking my vacation during the festival, so I will see as many movies as I can possibly see without passing out and I will try to keep a sort of log for each day I attend.

There are a few movies I already know I want to see: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon, David Gordon Green's Snow Angels, and the low-budget indie (redundant?) August Evening. What these and other films hold I can't say and that's what is exciting about festivals. I know that after the 10 days are up there will be a movie (or two, or three) that I will love. What's great is that I have no idea which ones they will be.