Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This Time Tomorrow

Shane Bissett's low-budget and unscripted story, This Time Tomorrow, begs the question: Do you have any plans for December 21, 2012 - just in case the world ends?  Stacey (Dave Coleman) wants to spend the day with his ex-girlfriend, Parker (Jade Elysan), hoping to rekindle their romance, if only until the end of the world.  I found it reminiscent of some of Richard Linklater's films (Before Sunrise, Waking Life, Before Sunset), where the main characters spend a lot of time in conversation about the meaning of life and relationships.  There was also a cast of quirky friends who added delightful flavor to the production. 

The Procession

In this hilarious short, Julie (Lucy Punch) tearfully begs her mother (Lily Tomlin) and brother (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) to attend a friend's funeral.  They grudgingly agree and, after stopping at a red light, find themselves leading The Procession, with no idea where they are going.  The situation and the interplay between mother and son during the whole ordeal plays with comedic brilliance on one of those deep seated fears that we all have at one time or another.  


Gayby is a sweet and embarrassingly funny film with a simple premise.  Jenn (Jenn Harris) wants to have a baby the natural way with her best friend, Matt (Matthew Wilkas), who happens to be gay.  The antics they go through trying to get pregnant while pursuing their individual romantic interests are hilarious.  This was one of those, oh dear I have to pick one more movie choices I made at the 2012 Philadelphia Film Festival.  I chose well.

The Woman in the Septic Tank

My first reaction to The Woman in the Septic Tank was "interesting".  I didn't quite know what to make of it.  It began as an examination of poverty in the Philippines and became really disturbing when a mother sold her young daughter to an old white man.  Suddenly the scene shifted to three young filmmakers who are trying to get funding for their independent film, "With Nothing".  As they discuss the story, it changes and is replayed according to the new ideas.  The girl becomes a boy; then it becomes a musical.  When they hire a famous actress, it changes yet again to a soap opera.  Finally, actual filming begins.  Not wanting to give any spoilers, suffice to say that the septic tank does show up.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


I wanted to see Shanghai simply because Chow Yun-Fat was in it, and it turned out to be one of my favorite films at the 2012 Philadelphia Film Festival.  It was released in China in 2010 and still doesn't have a US release date listed on the IMDB.

This film noir tale of mystery, international intrigue, and romance takes place in Shanghai just before Pearl Harbor, during the Japanese occupation of China. In addition to Chow Yun-Fat, who plays gangster Anthony Lan-Ting, the stellar cast includes John Cusack as US agent Paul Soames, David Morse as his superior Richard Astor, Ken Watanabe as Japanese General Tanaka, and Li Gong as Anthony's wife Anna.  As in any good espionage thriller, there are many twists and turns.  In the tradition of classic films like Casablanca, love and war create strange allegiances.  This film has it all - good story, lavish production, great cast.  For a peek, you can check the official website.

In Another Country

In Another Country is a Korean film from writer-director Sang-soo Hong, starring French actress Isabelle Huppert.  It consists of three variations of a story about a French woman, a Korean man (three different actors), an umbrella, a lighthouse, and a tent.  If that sounds confusing, it was.  Two ladies sitting next to me hated the movie.  I found it quirky enough to keep me intrigued, but it was so low-key that I did have a hard time staying awake. 


Wow, it's been 10 years since Signs was released, and it still holds up. One of the big treats at the 2012 Philadelphia Film Festival was a showing of the movie, followed by a Q&A with M. Night Shyamalan. I jumped, I got misty, it made me think - all the things I love in a film. All the classic scenes, revealing bits of human nature, still ring true: Graham's (Mel Gibson) tension exploding at the dinner table, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) glued to the TV in the closet, Merrill and the kids (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin) in their aluminum foil helmets, and more.  Shyamalan's post-movie insights into the picture and on writing and directing were fascinating.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bride of Frankenstein

Following on the success of 1931's Frankenstein, Universal aligned the stars again in 1935 for Bride of Frankenstein, with Colin Clive and Boris Karloff reprising their roles as Henry Frankenstein and the monster.  Dwight Frye returns, not as Fritz, who was killed in the original film, but as the doctor's assistant Karl.  Added to the cast were Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelley and the scene-stealing bride, Ernest Thesiger as the mad and frighteningly sinister Dr. Pretorius, Una O'Connor as the irritatingly silly Minnie, and John Carradine in a brief uncredited role.  Unlike it's predecessor, Bride of Frankenstein included a musical score by Franz Waxman, which I recognized from the old Flash Gordon serials.  Though not nearly as good as the original, mostly because of a lot of silliness, the movie still holds up.  The classic scene with the blind hermit, his violin, and cigars still brings a humanity to the monster.  It makes the final scene, when the monster declares, "We belong dead," all the more heartbreaking.  Oh, yes, I'll see it again.


1931 was a good year, with the release of two classic tales of terror, Frankenstein and Dracula.  That same Frankenstein, along with its sequel Bride of Frankenstein, still played to packed movie houses in 2012, and rightly so. With no film score to set the mood, director James Whale used Mary Shelley's tale, remarkable black & white cinematography, Colin Clive's (Dr. Frankenstein) and Dwight Frye's (Fritz) overacting, and Boris Karloff's sympathetic portrayal of the monster to produce one of the great films of all time.  The scene where the monster throws the little girl into the water, thinking she will float like the flowers is still a classic and always moves me to tears.  There is always something new to see and learn from the old films.  This time around, I realized that I was seeing John Boles (Victor) in a pre-Shirley Temple role and that Dwight Frye also played Renfield that year in DraculaFrankenstein is definitely a repeater anytime it shows up on TV or the silver screen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cloud Atlas

It probably would have helped to read David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas before seeing the film.  There was so much jumping around among stories, time periods, and characters that I lost track of what was going on.  It didn't help that it was often difficult to understand what Tom Hanks was saying when he was using an accent, beginning with the introduction to the film.  I also found the heavy makeup on Hanks and many of the other characters overpowering.  I found myself pondering things like, "Why did they give Susan Sarandon such a pointy nose?" or "This guy reminds me of Hugh Grant" or "Is this or isn't this Hugo Weaving?"  There were several points in the film that reminded me of the Matrix trilogy.  Ah, I had completely forgotten that the Wachowskis were involved.

All of this aside, I found myself caring about some of the characters and wanting to know their missing back stories.  Perhaps I'll tackle the book and see the movie again when it appears on cable and I can put on subtitles. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

Brain cells died on Saturday night. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning was the most phenomenally bad movie I've ever seen. I did laugh out loud a few times, purely out of disbelief that any film could be this bad. There was no discernible plot, but that didn't deter the filmmaker from leaving plenty of holes in what minimal amount there was. Maybe it would have helped if I had seen the direct-to-DVD Universal Soldier: Regeneration. Oh, by the way, it was shown in 3D.  What 3D?

Neither Jean-Claude Van Damme nor Dolph Lundgren had much screen time or dialog. Lundgren was, as usual, a purely evil charicature. But what happened to the heroic Luc Deveraux of the first two films of the series? I was really disappointed that Van Damme's Luc had become an evil cartoon.  I wasn't sure if his makeup for the final fight was modeled on Darth Vader without his helmet or Heath Ledger's Joker or both.  I found myself wondering if it was to disguise a stunt double during the fight scenes.  Scott Adkins was passable as our hero, John, but it was so wrong to make Luc the villain.

Right from the opening scene, the non-stop graphic violence was way over the top, and the relentless pursuit of John by a hulking unisol (Andrei Arlovski) seemed to be a pathetic attempt to emulate the Terminator films. There was also an exorbitant amount of gratuitous sex, bordering on, if not crossing over to, porn. The only reason I stayed was the foolish hope that the real Luc would appear, destroy the evil Luc, and save the day. Only in my dreams.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Caesar Must Die

At the 2nd day of the Philadelphia Film Festival I had the transcendent privilege of seeing Caesar Must Die. What a marvelous picture! Filmed within the confines of a maximum security prison, this subtitled Italian documentary follows inmates through their auditions, rehearsals, and performance of a production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar". Filmed mostly in black and white, the movie's only color is "outside" - within the final production and, for a brief moment, as one prisoner viewed a picture of the outside world.

The inmates, some with life sentences, stole the show with their performances. There was no backstory about their crimes, other than a line or two introducing each one, with his name, offense, and sentence. Anything more was unnecessary. The story was about the power and liberation of the production, driven home by one man's final comment that after discovering art, his cell had become a prison.

A postscript: Watching this performance of just part of "Julius Caesar" reinforces my opinion that Shakespeare is meant to be seen and experienced, not read in a classroom. I can remember being exceedingly bored by the stilted oral readings that I and my classmates endured in high school. What a difference it would have made if we had seen the plays, listened to the language as it was meant to be heard, and felt the emotion of a real performance.

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook, shown at the opening of the 2012 Philadelphia Film Festival, was an interesting study of relationships and mental illness.   Bradley Cooper portrays Pat Solitano, a bipolar former teacher, prone to violent outbursts, whose obsession is to reconcile with his estranged wife.  Robert De Niro is his OCD father, Pat Solitano, Sr., a bookie who obsesses about the Philadelphia Eagles.  Jennifer Lawrence enters the picture as Tiffany, who has mental issues of her own.

The film is driven by the relationships between Pat and the other characters, primarily his father and Tiffany. The performances were excellent. The story was interesting, but became too contrived toward the end of the movie. It seemed as though they ran out of time and had to finish up right away.

The picture was filmed in the Philadelphia area, and the audience cheered many times at familiar sights. Bradley Cooper was, as always, nice too look at. The bright spot in the movie was Bollywood star, Anupam Kher, as Pat's therapist, another Eagles fan. It reminded me of his role in  Dil Bole Hadippa!, where he played a cricket-loving mayor. But these things didn't save it from being disappointing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Music Never Stopped

The Music Never Stopped was a fascinating study of family relationships and music therapy.  It was clearly an independent film and sadly didn’t have a wide release.

The main character left home in the 60s or 70s after a falling out with his father, became homeless, ended up 20 years later at the hospital with a benign brain tumor (I forget what kind), had surgery, and could create no new memories. A music therapist discovered that he became animated when he heard music from the Grateful Dead and other groups of the 60s and 70s. Triggered by certain songs, he could remember specific incidents related to the music. Over time, a relationship formed between him and his estranged father, using the music to stimulate conversation. I’m sure that’s over-simplified, but it was quite a testament to the power of music - and music therapy. There was no film score - rather the music of old LPs. I'd love to know how realistic the portrayal was of a man who couldn't form new memories.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day

I had never seen Led Zeppelin before and only knew the title of one of their songs, "Stairway to Heaven". I can't say that the film made me a big fan, but I was surprised at the tunes I did recognize.

The show started badly, with low volume in muffled mono. The audience audibly made their displeasure obvious, and soon the volume went up and the stereo kicked in. As with many live concerts (this one was recorded in 2007), a lot of the instruments were played for the sake of showing off what sounds they could produce, rather than to support the vocals. And there was no good rhythm. The vocals themselves were drowned out by the music.

The first half of the show wasn't all that great. The true fans seemed to really like it, but I was disappointed. It sounded more like noise than melody. During the second half, there was finally music with a decent beat, tunes I recognized, including "Stairway to Heaven". I still had trouble hearing and understanding the lyrics - maybe I'm just getting old and crotchety. They did do two encores, again with tunes I recognized. All in all, the second half of the concert was satisfying.

Throughout the show there were lasers, psychedelic designs, and flashy shots of the performance. I yearned for the old Joshua Light Show of the 1960s and 1970s.

I can't say I would recommend the film unless you are a real fan and already know Led Zeppelin's music.