Wednesday, January 28, 2009
To porn with poverty
By John Esther
In stark, dark, and no bark contrast to the golden showering of Oscar narratives shining brightly from the glittering saintly screens of a Los Angeles’ sin-i-(per)plex(ity) the Pineda family of the Philippines squat through the sludge, slum, spew and sperm of their softcore movie house without ruminations, righteousness or reward at film’s end.
Residents of the softcore movie house (and, lest we forget, the movie itself), the Pineda family is lead by Nanay Flor (Gina Pareno) a matriarch scorned by her bigamist husband who she plans to defeat as a matter of overdue course in court after meeting with the judge who has assured her victory. (What went on at the meeting between Nanay and judge sparks the suspicious imagination.) Nanay’s daughter, Nayda (Jaclyn Jose), who runs the token booth and canteen, married Lando (Julio Diaz) out of a loveless cultural habit, but secretly fancy’s a family’s member.
Nanay’s adopted daughter, Jewel (Roxanne Jordan), whose takes elocutionary tips from the outdated sex films, also helps out in front while Nanay’s nephews, Alan (Coco Martin) and Ronald (Kristopher King), work and play hardcore behind the scenes and flickering screens.
Over the span of a long day sojourning into hard night, director Brillante Ma. Mendoza (Slingshot) moves up and down/in and out/over and threw stairways of the various lower halves – economics (poverty), biological (sex), cinematic (porn), etc. -- of this working class family because that is all they get. Stuck in a modus vivendi of muck, primitive urges, theft and work, there is no time for this laboring family to find time any head culture (beyond fellatio). Besides, why give yourself another ulcer?
Far more authentic than any other film about poverty currently playing in suburban malls, Serbis (Service) is an authentic, grimy, boils-on-the-butt portrayal of an underclass underrepresented in cinema -- of those too poor for televisions, game shows and a movie ticket toward any revolutionary road. There are no narratives about retrieving childhood loves, hard work and belief in a system do not payoff, and the good, stupid poor guy does not dive into a glorious finale. The trickle down effect filters filth, fury and fatalism to the bottom.
By John Esther
Ready to forget last year's dismal conclusion, the Los Angeles Galaxy announced their schedule for the 2009 Major League Soccer regular season.
The club will once again play 30 games, 15 at home and 15 on the road, in 2009, starting with their season opener against four-time MLS Cup champion, D.C. United, at The Home Depot Center on Sunday, March 22, noon.
Other highlights include the Galaxy’s first-ever game against the expansion team, Seattle Sounders FC, at Qwest Field on Sunday, May 10, noon; the match against defending MLS Cup Champion Columbus Crew on Sunday, May 17, noon; and the Galaxy’s annual Fourth of July match -- this year they go against the New England Revolution (8 p.m. kickoff).
For the second consecutive year, the Galaxy play six matches against their two California rivals, Chivas USA and the San Jose Earthquakes. In 2008, the Galaxy had a combined record of 3-1-2 against these two rivals.
With more afternoon games than usual, the LA Galaxy are now accepting deposits for the 2009 season. A non-refundable deposit of 25% per seat secures your place for each 2009 Galaxy regular season game, plus great benefits including exclusive events with the team, special season seat holder gifts, and much more.
LA GALAXY 2009 MLS REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:
Sunday, March 22 vs. D.C. United Noon
Saturday, April 4 vs. Colorado, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 11 vs. Chivas USA, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 18 at San Jose, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 25 at Colorado, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 2 vs. New York, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, May 6 at Real Salt Lake, 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 10 at Seattle, Noon
Sunday, May 17 vs. Columbus, Noon
Saturday, May 23 at FC Dallas, 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 30 vs. Kansas City, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 6 at Toronto FC, 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 20 at San Jose, 1:00 p.m.
Sunday, June 28 vs. Houston, 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 4 vs. New England, 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 11 at Chivas USA, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 18 at New York, 3:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 25 at Kansas City, 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 8 at New England, 3:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 15 vs. Seattle, 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, August 19 at Chicago, 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 22 at D.C. United, 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 29 vs. Chivas USA, 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, September 12 vs. FC Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 19 vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 26 at Columbus, 4:30 p.m.
Friday, October 2 vs. Chicago, 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, October 18 at Houston, Noon
Saturday, October 24 vs. San Jose, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
By John Esther
The January 23 public screening of Deborah Stratman's O'er the Land had more early departures than any other film I attended at Sundance Film Festival 2009. Since this was a New Froniter's selection described in the Sundance program book as "Straman's mediation of freedom and technological approaches to manifest destiny," what were filmgoers expecting? A story about a very annoying nerd with a cool name? U2 in 3D?
Using images of outsiders doing the strangest and, sometimes noisiest, of jobs (putting out fires in the middle of monstrous factories; or putting out fires in seemingly nowhere), Colonel William Rankin recounting his 40-minute fall from the sky after ejecting a plane (holy hell, what an anecdote) while clouds and noise roll up, and Americans getting off on senseless destruction/those watching others getting off on senseless destruction (machine gun rentals, fire-gun "painting" -- see the bright, shiny things, America)with lingering lucid precision, Stratman draws attention to the narratives of these people or ontologies one rarely notices in the reel or real life. Images are all around us yet few of them are ever recognized. Upon closer inspection they say a lot more about the human condition, the American one in particular, than the dominant paradigms of discourse.
While Stratman is a little bit too obsessed with the, sometimes, banal order of things for my tastes, her lingering images are refreshing language alternatives to macro and micro mediums of expression. Independence.
Adam director resurrected for another project.
By John Esther
The 2009 Sundance Film Festival announced director Max Mayer's Adam the recipient of this year’s Alfred P. Sloan Prize. The Prize, which carries a $20,000 cash award to the filmmaker provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is presented to an outstanding feature film focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character.
Adam tells the story between a man (Hugh Dancy) with Asperger's Syndrome and a woman (Rose Byrne) who moves into his apartment building and what science can do for their love. (Science is making a comeback in America!)
On screen Mayer has directed episodes of The West Wing, Alias and Family Law. Mayer also directed his first feature film, Better Living, starring Roy Scheider, Olympia Dukakis and Edward Hermann which opened theatrically in 2000. Last year, Adam was chosen as a winner of the 12th Annual Writers’ Network Fiction and Screenplay Competition. Adam is his Mayer's second feature film.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Cold bloody killings
By John Esther
From the opening scene of Norway's Tommy Wirkola's movie one knows that if you go out into the snowy woods today you are in for a big bloody surprise.
In typical heterosexual-coupled form, eight medical students retreat one Easter vacation in a far and away snow cabin for some winter activity. The first one never arrives. Then another one dies, and then the other (these two after having sex in an outhouse) and now it is a matter of life or death to get back to the car before dying in a very violent vein at the hands of some Nazi zombies.
While there are few funny moments in this film, there are just too many script problems for this odd Sundance film to succeed. If the cabin was the first victim's how come she never encountered these killers before? How come these Nazis have guns but they do not use them? If these are medical students who are not studying during break, why not use their skills when fighting back? Why do they stare at the zombies rather than kill them when they have a friend in dire need? Is this some metaphor for violent voyeurism? And so on.
Apparently the filmmakers were a little too pleased with how much violence they could use to care with other problems in the script. The sex is gross and grossly modest compared to violence. How American of Wirkola. Are "horror" films independent if they have subtitles?.
Moreover, considering the ending are we suppose assume the killers just want their stolen loot back and all is well? Where do they think they will spend it?
And as far as the villains go, the real Nazis were already zombies. There is no need for hyperbole.
Lost after the rubble
By John Esther
A film that will get a minor boost after its lead, Michael Shannon, picked up a Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his excellent performance in Revolutionary Road, writer-director Noah Buschel’s The Missing Person follows people, to various degrees, coping the Sept. 11 attacks years later.
John Rosow (Shannon) now lives and drinks in Chicago. A private investigator, one early morning he is hired to follow a man (Frank Wood) all the way to California via train. He is not given much information about the man he is following but it appears the guy is a pedophile. As he continues to follow the man, John encounters various types of characters and their relationship to the missing man. It is a wacky world out there and John is just doing the best job he can before New York City calls him back home.
While this is not groundbreaking cinema here, The Missing Person finds a delightful rhythm of dialogue, direction and score.
By John Esther
Benjamin Bratt, Woody Harrelson, Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo were on hand today for The People Speak at the Music Café to read selections from Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People's History of the United States, in front of a live audience as part of the upcoming documentary, The People Speak.
This special event marked the end of a year long set of performances in which actors, including Sean Penn, Matt Damon, Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover, and David Strathairn, Kerry Washington and Q'Orianka Kilcher, and singer Allison Moorer, read or performed excerpts from Zinn’s history book. Zinn was present.
Considering Zinn's book is about those excluded by the mainstream, there is a certain irony in having celebs putting a face(s) on the book.
The documentary is directed by Project Greenlight producer Chris Moore, along with co-directors Anthony Arnove and Howard Zinn. Josh Brolin also serves as a producer on a project, along with Zinn, Dan Fireman, Ara Katz, Art Spigel and Chris Moore. Tony Sacco serves as the film’s director of photography.
The documentary will debut at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, February 11th.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
By John Esther
The McCarthy era, political incorrectness, PATRIOT Act...without the First Amendment, all other rights fail. Yet we are more than willing to sacrifice free speech when people of political power say it is in our best interest. (Wait a minute. My best interest?)
When The New York Times tried to publish the Pentagon Papers, the government sued. When Nazis insisted on marching, their ignorant hatred was marched right out the doors of law. When a Colorado professor dared to challenge the jingoistic jingles of American policy after 9/11 he was fired. When a woman whom speaks Arabic tried to open a bilingual school, her resignation was in demand.
They are just a few who said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Staging historical cases, film clips and interviews with her father, legendary lawyer Martin Garbus, Liz Garbus tells how America often finds itself fighting for its most important right. At 74-minutes, Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Speech is a quick and entertaining reminder that those who are willing to sacrifice free speech in the name of security are asking for a personal/political cap in the arse.
(A side note: Due to an usually poor connection, the publication of this review was delayed. Hmm, Censorship?)
Media and movies
By John Esther
Without publicists and agents present, media from around the world met filmmakers from around the world met today to talk about movies at the annual Sundance Film Festival 2009 Press and Filmmakers' Reception.
“There isn’t a better place to show my movie and talk about to interested press than at Sundance," said Laurel Nakadate's about her film, Stay the Same Never Change, a video project about female adolescent in Middle America she turned into a narrative features after receiving a $20,000 grant.
“The film has received an overwhelming response from the first three screenings,” said Nakadate, continuing to converse about her experience at Sundance with exuberance. “The audience is laughing and what I call my ‘Visual Fact and Narrative Fiction.’”
Unlike many household names with guarded personalities, these independent artists are happy to talk to the press about their film. Good press for an independent film can give it the kind of exposure it needs to attract audiences, agents and acquisitions.
“I am a writer so I know how important it is to get the work out,” said David Brind, the screenwriter of the Dramatic Competition entry, Dare, a film about three teenagers going through their last semester in high school. “The film layers and unmasks the three main characters. It’s funny, smart. It’s got a good cast with Emmy Rossum, Zach Gilford, Ashley Springer, Ana Gasteyer, Sandra Bernhard and Alan Cumming. If people know that, they will come.”
In the economically challenging times Sundance attendance and acquisitions were down. While this plagued these budding filmmakers who had put a lot of their own money (and friends and family) and time into their films they were optimistic in the talks they were having in Sundance.
"The talks are vary but we are hopeful the film will get picked up," said Cherien Dabis, the writer-director behind Amreeka, a film Palestinian family amongst the aftermath of America's occupation in Iraq, which is gathering a lot of good buzz amongst filmgoers. "We can tell by the really good questions how much people like the film."
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
By John Esther
Far from the maddening crowds of Sundance Film Festival 2009 are numerous mountain trails in the Uinta Mountains.
If you are a beginner or an expert wanting to know the best ones, White Pine Touring can serve your needs.
For my Wine Pine tour I arrived at Nordic Center, located at the corner of Park Ave and Thaynes Canyon Drive in Hotel Park City. at 9 a.m. Immediately greeted by a friendly staff I was suited and set up for my first snowshoeing experience.
On our way out east of Park City we stopped off at the famous Samak Smoke House for some really good, and really inexpensive sandwiches (by Los Angeles standards) made by owner and local legend, Jen Hisey, who runs the place with her husband, Dan Witham.
Located on Mirror Lake Highway in Kamas, Utah, Samak Smoke House is a well kept general store with a health conscious bent, offering healthy alternatives to greasy fast food chains. However, according to the loyal locals who converse with Hisey and Witham on a first-name basis, during the summer Samak Smoke House becomes a popular place for doing beers and burgers outside while watching the world go by.
Including the Samak Smoke House stop, the trip to our designated hidden trail took about 30 minutes.
With clean air and beautiful skies ahead, my guide, Betsy Bothe, guided us into what has been hailed by many of the locals as the most beautiful part in Northern Utah (near the Wyoming border).
Bothie, a local and physically fit guide, offered a comfortable measure of local information while providing a healthy dose of good exercise.
As the clear, thin air flowed through me, a calming effect took over. Those majestic mountain ranges, tall trees and unspoiled terrain reminds one who watches a lot of movies that art often takes a distant second place to nature. And there are no lines to wait.
There was little in the way of wild life. As the bears were, fortunately, hibernating, the only tracks we saw were elk, moose, fox and bird. According to Bothe, there are some mountain lions in the area yet they tend to stay higher up.
"If you ever see mountain lion tracks," Bothe said, "stick together and turn back."
After an hour into the beautiful mountain scenery we turned back, eating our sandwiches at a picnic bench about 15 minutes before getting back to the road.
After a solid two hours of exercise and exhilaration, I was back in Park City by 2 p.m. -- in better shape to get back to those human-made images.
For more information on White Pine Touring: www.whitepinetouring.com
For more information on Samak Smoke House: http://samaksmokehouse.com
Monday, January 19, 2009
Food and finance
Sunday, January 18, 2009
The boy with the thorn in his mind
By John Esther
You know you have a tearjerker on your hands when you hear sobbing sounds all around you at a press screening. Film critics and reviewers see a lot of films attempting to make you weep, very few succeed.
I am not saying I cried, too, during Dana and Hart Perry's documentary, although I came close, but, then again, I am not a parent. And how can a parent not weep at the fear of his or her own child taking his or her life after battling with bi-polar depression?
Less than 40 months ago, on October 2, 2005, Dana and Hart's oldest son together, Evan Scott Perry, jumped out of his New York bedroom window, plummeting down an air shaft to his immediate death. Evan was 15.
A boy in out of of instututions much of his life, Evan frequently thought about his own death, now his heartbroken parents think about it even more, with a mixture of disbelief and resignation.
Chronicling the tumultuous rise, fall and aftermath of Evan, his parents interview family, friends, doctors, teachers and others who knew Evan. At points insightful, this melancholy and infinitely sad story examines the devastation of bipolar depression and the brutal aftermath of teenage suicide.
While some during Sundance have cried "exploitation," especially with regard to the filming of Evan's funeral, which is about five to 10 minutes of the film, it perhaps says something more about their own insecurities as parents rather than the shortcomings of the obviously very loving Perry parents.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
By John Esther
What is a Sundance Film Festival without a Parker Posey movie? This year the unofficial Queen of Sundance stars in writer-director Ryan Shiraki's movie about three women "holding on for one more day."
Best buddies forever, Becky (Posey), Gayle (Amy Poehler) and Judi (Rachel Dratch) are three squares whom meet for "Make Your Own Pizza" Night to gripe about their lives and play a stupid "movies plus numbers" game. and plan for their "fun" annual trip. By day Becky works for a ball-brekaing boss, Senator "Kay Bee" Hartman (Jane Lynch), Amy runs a dog camp, and Judi plans for her wedding to her gay fiance' (Seth Meyers). No Secrets? Really.
After a quick series of events Becky the nerd is sent to South Padre Island, Texas, to keep an eye on Ashley (Amber Tamblyn) the nerdy daughter of the Senator, during spring break. Making it their annual trip, Judi and Gayle tag along.
Once down there everyone lets loose, or at least tries. Gayle becomes the wise coach to seven silly women while Judi boozes it up with Charlene (Missi Pyle). Becky cannot believe what is happening to her two BFs.
For the most parts, a funny movie performed by funny women (nice to see SNL Alumnae getting work), Spring Breakdown should be a popular DVD rental when it is released in April. Just make sure you have your Ipod with you as there are plenty of awful songs to stick in your head afterward.
Friday, January 16, 2009
A ruff ride
By John Esther
According to writer-director Sterlin Harjo, "Barking Water was one big experiment that turned out great." Not only is calling one's work "great" a bit much for anyone, it is not even true in the eyes of this beholder.
Barking Water tells the tale of a dying man Frankie (Richard Ray Whitman) whom Irene (Casey Camp-Horinck) hates to love. Distant lovers who have fallen out of the graces of each other over time and space, Irene does one last favor for Frankie before he dies.
So the two set out on a journey across Oklahoma, reminiscing about the past, getting on each other's nerves and visiting friends and family. Yet to complete the journey it will require mooching, smooching and stealing.
A poorly acted and written story with a lot of obvious and clumpy improvisation, this film is so far from "great" methinks Sundance probably would not have accepted Barking Water had it not been for the Native American angle
By John Esther
With a sagging economy, a minot GLBT boycott against pro-Prop. 8 Mormon-Utah, and hopes for a new and efficient president on the way, Sundance Film Festival kicked off its 25th year.
Held in Park City, Utah, the world's premiere independent film festival did not open with a star-studded event but rather with the claymation feature, Mary and Max, by Adam Ellot (Harvie Krumpett) to a sold-out crowd at the smoothly ran Eccles Theatre. Elliot let the audience know this was all about claymation and not CGI and that it took the film over a year to shoot. The film was followed by the biggest SFF Opening Night party in years at Park City's Legacy Lounge.
Friday the weather was great, the traffic was horrible and the festival was in full swing with films screening around town to people from many parts of the world. I saw director Spike Lee (Passing Strange) wandering Sundance HQ while notable actor and mediocre Sundance DJ Nick Cannon took in some hot tea at T-Mobile G1 Diner with others yet sans his wife, pop singer Mariah Carey.
By John Esther
Park City, Utah, is not only home to America’s most important film festival ten days out of the year, it also boasts some of the best skiing throughout winter, anywhere in the United States or beyond.
Located 35 miles southwest of
Operating for 27 years Deer Valley Resort is located a little outside of
There are six mountains: Little Baldy Peak, Bald Eagle, Bald Mountain, Flagstaff, Empire Canyon and new Lady Morgan offering a variety of skiing terrain, allowing skiers ample opportunity to play in our annual 300 inches of light, dry Utah powder. The slopes are easier to manuever than the ones around Salt Lake City. A black run at Deer Valley Resort is equivalent to a blue run at Snowbird or Alta.
If you need help with clothes, kids or tickets, onsite child care, lift ticket, lessons and rental packages are available.
Which is all great if you are a skiier; one of the few remaining of its kind left in the United States, Deer Valley prohibits snowboarders.
After the snow has melted
For more information on Deer Valley Resort go to http://www.deervalley.com/
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith, left) and Deputy Martin (Edi Gathegi) in My Bloody Valentine 3D.
Pick-axe-ing My Bloody Valentine
By John Esther
As 3-D technology increases, we can expect more and more movies to come at us from the big screen. Of course, what better way to get the youth to wear those funky glasses than to promise sharp objects, blood and gore?
Moving from one Valentine’s Day to another Valentine’s Day a decade letter (without any of those dumb male wigs to signify another time), My Bloody Valentine tells the discordant tale of the town of Harmony. Plagued by the hard economy, the members of the this mining community now live in fear of a pickaxe wheeling maniac who was presumed death but, apparently, has arisen from the grave to spear away the downtrodden.
While the Sheriff Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith) has his pants full with his lover Megan (Megan Boone) and his wife, Sarah (Jamie King), whom he mistrusts around Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), her ex-boyfriend who vanished after the last time a homicidal maniac attacked Harmony, Deputy Martin looks on.
Played by Edi Gathegi, Deputy Martin is the brains of the bunch, and also the only one who does not have a link to the past. Perhaps he is the town’s only African American?
Born in Kenya and raised in Berkeley, Ca., while his father was in the process of picking up five degrees from UC Berkely, Gathegi stumbled upon acting after a basketball injury that ended one career and started another.
Gathegi’s first screen acting break was in the movie Crank followed by such roles as Zeke Molinda in Veronica Mars, Darudi in The Fifth Patient, Cheese in Gone, Baby Gone, Dr. Jeffrey “Big Love” Cole in House, Laurent in the recent blockbuster, Twilight, and other films and television programs.
In this exclusive interview we spoke to Gathegi about My Bloody Valentine, his life and the upcoming sequel to Twilight.
JEsther Entertainment: What kinds of films did you watch while you were growing up?
Edi Gathegi: As a kid I was into cartoons like all kids. I remember watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie and leaving the theater trying to do jump kicks. Then I went through this “horror phase.” I remembered being freaked out by A Nightmare on Elm Street and not being able to like sleep for two nights. Now, as an actor having dabbled in a lot of different genres, I’m most excited about playing real life, historical figures/biopics of some sort. I like having their entire life there as resource material. The joy in acting for me is playing the detective where I may even find footage of the person walking and talking.
JE: When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?
EG: My family tells me I was always a natural performer. I was the cloud, the family raconteur. I tell dinnertime stories and bedtime stories to my brother in our bunk bed, but I didn’t claim until I broke my knee trying out for the basketball team in college. I just wanted to take an easy course and acting seemed like something that would give me joy, even though I was getting depressed from not being able to walk. And then I fell in love with acting. I decided I wanted to make it my life’s journey and my mother and father fully supported me.
JE: How did you get involved in My Blood Valentine 3D?
EG: I was in Portland working on Twilight and a I had a few days off so my representation gave me a same-day audition for My Blood Valentine, which I hated because it didn’t give me time to prepare. They still found I was right for the part and the rest is history [laughs].
JE: You mentioned you like to do research, what kind of detective work did you do for this film?
EG: Good question. I did not see the original version because I was told my character was not in the original version. This is a very tone. That was a very campy film. I didn’t feel it was going to be useful for what was required with the script I had. I don’t have a lot of action scenes with the killer so I didn’t watch a bunch of horror films. For me, I was just a deputy sheriff trying to solve a case and that’s the way I approached it. I talk to friends who had friends who were in law enforcement. I read some law enforcement material. I geared my character toward what it means to be on that law enforcement side.
JE: He is only character who does not appear in the opening scene 10 years ago.
EG: Good observation. I can’t tell you where he’s from. That’s my own personal secret [laughs]. An actor’s got to have some secrets.
JE: What do you think you have in common with your character?
EG: My character and I share a perceptive quality. My character is the perceptive one in the cast. He’s the one who’s sort of quietly watching. He’s got a finger on what’s going on. He knows secrets that others don’t know, that they don’t want him to know. I’m not saying this about myself but my character is the smartest one in the movie. He is the one I would trust to be the sheriff. He’s got FBI aspirations. He’s not going to stop at this case. This case is a stepping stone if he solves it. He’s going to go to Washington, D.C. That’s the kind of guy he is.
JE: The film does not let him solve the mystery. Why not?
JE: He should be the sheriff. The sheriff he works for is erratic and an adulterer, which the small townsfolk should know.
EG: Alex’s a bit short-fused. Every man who’s cheating eventually gets caught, or they continue cheating [laughs]. He’s a guy who’s got his issues. I’m sure Kerr did not judge the character he played. He did a wonderful job.
JE: There are quite a few metaphors going on with the pickaxe, the mining shafts, the villain has a condom costume, and so on. What is the film saying about sexual oppression in this small town?
EG: Wow! I hadn’t thought about it, but I’m sure some scholars – if they do see this movie because I’m sure it’s right up their ally – will have a field day with that metaphor, with that dissertation [Laughs]. They’ll put it into pieces.
JE: Plus it is in 3D and the point of 3D is to have things come at you, which are almost always phallic. These things, shall we say, are thrown in your face.
EG: [Laughs]. That’s definitely a way to look at it. I don’t know if that was intentional. I haven’t thought about it like that. I thought of it as seeing a cool, badass film. [Laughs]
JE: Well if these things work on the subconscious it could make for a good date movie.
EG: [Laughs]. It’s hard to believe but this is the perfect date movie. When you take a girl on a date you don’t necessarily want to take her to a romantic comedy. That’s mundane. You want to go do something that’s exciting. A 3D movie is like a roller coaster. You’ve got live action, excitement, laughs, camp. Your woman will get scared, jump on your arm and feel your bicep. You get to be the hero [laughs].
JE: What can you tell us about the upcoming sequel to Twilight?
EG: We got that locked down. We’re doing that in a few months.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Barking and batting for the others
By John Esther
Judging by the majority of mainstream accolades and conversations from film reviewers and consumers alike, one would believe that the best the films of 2008 had to offer were Slumdog subjective dazes and replayed dark knight narratives where Horatio Algers of the world rise from the hells of poverty and alien-nation while billionaire playboys dress up and save the world; growing young has its disadvantages, and non-German Germans speaking English could write a more genial and gentler German history in these not so happy-go-lucky times.
What was that Godarian remark about art being the reality of the reflection of reality? Egad, if unabashedly reinforcing the status quo vis-à-vis Victorian-valued fantasy is the cinematic community’s reaction to the best in the best of all possible worlds then, apparently, The Class’ François (François Bégaudeau) is not the only one reluctant to have others to read Voltaire’s Candide.
If it were not for the notable exceptions of Milk and Waltz with Bashir it would seem that in the days of President-Elect Barack Obama, the Hollywood apparatus, along with the apologists and admirers, are even more behind the American political centrist-left curve than they were with the promotion of last year’s politically reactionary film, No Country for Old Men, as the best picture of 2007.
While it would be lengthy, albeit perhaps more useful, to discuss the faults with the forerunners of 2008, as we look ahead to January 20, 2009, let us praise here the extraordinary works of art of 2008 rather than tear down mediocrity moviemaking. (There is much to criticize elsewhere anyhow and, besides, criticisms can be fully explored during the month-long Oscar race between nominations on January 22, 2009, and the award ceremony on February 22, 2009.)
Like any other social text, a film needs to be judged on numerous tropes, agents and assets implementing ideas, events and characters with intensity, innovation and intelligence. No film is an island free from complacency, criticism and kudos.
There were plenty of exemplary films of 2008 achieving considerable accomplishment(s) yet it was not a particularly great year for cinema. More specifically, on at least three memorable occasions, weeks went by where, basically, I saw films I would essentially forget altogether had it not been for the occasional reminder thanks to a visit to the video store or channel surfing through cable television.
Ergo the alphabetic list of best 2008 films below may have risen to the top of the year, but it is highly unlikely any of them will make my “best of the decade” at the end of this year.
Funny Games U.S. – In light of and in contrast to promising times such as these, it is a grand thing when someone shoves a Schopenhauerian story of non-visually accepted brutality into our non-olfactory cephalic orifices. An American remake of his 1997 film, Michael Haneke’s precisely directed film examines the mean means and wayward ways of American movie violence when a staunchly upper-middle class mother (Naomi Watts), father (Tim Roth) and son (Devon Gearhart) are terrorized by the polite duo of Peter (Brad Corbet) and Paul (Michael Pitt). Superior to that other hyperbolic praised film attempting to address the same subject yet concluding with a disgusting display of suburban romanticism, A History of Violence, not since Gaper Noe’s Irreversible (which is also guilty of David Cronenberg's adoration of suburbia and urban mistrust) has a feature film crawled under my skin, for very good reason, like this non-funny match of “Bonehead” and “Hellraiser” images and ideas.
Hunger – Stylistically brilliant with an excess of poetic license that prevents the cinematic story of IRA resister and hunger-striker Bobby Sands from being a grand masterpiece, Steve McQueen’s film is as stark, brutal, unappetizing and relentlessly pessimistic as any historical recreation of the highest orders. When you know there is no hope for the historical characters in a film -- and this is not a Hollywood movie so there will not be any here – there is little else to do than sit back and taste the misery. Cops do not stop torturing and let their victims go. Others do not watch on as the horrors of oppression merge on. This is a story about pain, resistance and lasting victory. There is a human dignity personified in this film, far beyond the machinations of a cynical Hollywood apparatus.
Milk – Wonderful in so many ways, Gus Van Sant’s story of slain civil rights leader Harvey Milk is the kind of story that offers not just one person a chance to make it in this world while millions watch on in status quo oblivion, but a community, if not a nation (world), too. What is there to legitimately say wrong about it? Sean Penn’s performance as Milk is typically brilliant yet, in addition, propelled by the excellent supporting cast. Van Sant’s skilled direction is manifest and loving. Danny Elfman’s score is the most significant of his film career. The film has direct political resonance of our times and it will be watched for years to come. Okay, Diego Luna’s character and his character’s wig are quite annoying but, otherwise, Milk may be the best film of the year.
Nothing But the Truth – In her best performance as the year’s best female character (which is not saying much), Kate Beckinsale plays Rachel Armstrong, a reporter for a major newspaper in Washington, D.C. who exposes the identity of a covert CIA agent, Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga). The government, lead by Patton Dubois (Matt Damon), demands Rachel release the name of her source. At considerable cost, Rachel refuses to cave in -- thus saving face, protecting democracy and her source, plus offering “hope” for journalists, women and parents who lose family in the name of a larger unit. While writer-director Rod Lurie’s previous works have had their moderate and modest merits, he progresses professionally and politically with this picture.
Seven Pounds – In the best lead performance of his career, Will Smith, in his follow up to the stupid Hancock, plays Ben Thomas, a man so riddled with guilt the only thing left to live for is others. Ben is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for the right people; he just needs to make sure the people he picks deserve his generosity. Along the way he discovers some of the kindest, quietest people; including a heartbreaking, lonely, blind man played to near-perfection by Woody Harrelson (only that hairdo diminishes his character’s pathos). Surprisingly, for a film about an African-American making the grandest personal sacrifice he can for the greater good during the time of an upcoming African-American African president talking about sacrifice for the greater necessity, director Gabriele Muccino’s authentic “feel good” film has, unfortunately, been discarded during awards season by lighter weight works.
Special – Beyond Michael Rapaport’s outstanding performance, this is a small film with a lot of phenomena going for it. Dealing with drugs as both self-realization and self-destruction; deconstruction of the comic book narrative; the fantasies of the working class person; paying and playing to advertise brand names as an act of hero worship and identification (albeit false); working class dupe as guinea pig and wild horse; as much as you push down the working class person, he (she, they) will eventually rise; and special as in stupid; this widely disregarded film is filled with ideas and style, which is all the more important considering its obviously low budget. Special in its own way, this was the most overlooked film of the year.
Synecdoche, New York – Writer extraordinaire Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut film allows the kind of rigorous thought, attention, reflection and reward akin to obvious, and not so obvious, predecessors like James Joyce’s Ulysses, Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (and Pamela Hansford Johnson’s Proust Recaptured) , Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy, Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou (and some recent films by Jacques Rivette), and theories advanced by Umberto Eco (Travels in Hyper Reality) Terry Eagleton (“Subjects”) and Frederic Jameson (simulacrum!) – to name just a few -- plus the music of Wire ("German Shepherds: and “Drill”). The difficult acting challenges required by the story's/ies demands are superbly met by the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dianne Wiest, Tom Noonan, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis and others.
Tony Manero – Set against the awful reign of General Auguste Pinochet’s military grip on Chile, 1978, Raul (Alfredo Castro) is an everyday fascist obsessed with impersonating Saturday Night Fever’s disco do-nothing doll (John Travolta). Grounds for a social satire, Chile’s official Oscar entry is one of the more violent and vicious films of the year (up there with Funny Games). If it suits Tony, he will steal or kill. A jerk being jerked around, like the leader of his country Tony cannot get a rise from people but he can sure put people down – for good. He should be dancing in jail but who is going to notice in a land gone mad with might? Selflessly acted by Castro and others, and bravely directed by Pablo Larrain, Tony Manero is a brutal portrait of a country rotting from the arms to its goosesteps. Not surprisingly in this time of romance with happy endings, Larrain’s film is been widely reviled by the mainstream movie reviewers.
Tropic Thunder – Every year there is a movie-- usually one of those quieter summer releases -- I have a blast watching. It may not be a masterpiece, but it possesses enough wit and verve to make the top ten. Director/actor/producer/co-writer Ben Stiller’s film within a film about the making of the ultimate war movie clinched-fisted America’s fascistic fascination with the image of war – plus other less than noble endeavors -- and punched it right in the funny bone. From the opening scene to the ridiculous panda-cide to the hilarious send up of the serious actor by this year’s most overlooked “Best Supporting Actor” Robert Downey, Jr., to Tom Cruise’s anal-releasing performance as a foulmouthed billionaire and so on, this was a riotous ruckus. You people know what I mean.
Waltz with Bashir – The only documentary or animated film to make the list this year (note: I have not seen Wall-E), Ari Folman’s non-“Love Song” into the Lebanon massacres of 1982 by the powers that be – Lebanese, Israeli, or otherwise – engages viewers on several levels with its important historical insights, clear anti-war message, contemporary political impact, outstanding animation and deft soundtrack. In contrast to those Disneyesque derivatives of Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas and DC Comics, for the children of the Sabra and Shatila slums, there was no millionaire reward or going back, and the only thing the dark night brought was terror. They lit up their deaths.
In defiance of others
By Ed Rampell
As usual, my annual Top 10 list is largely based on progressive political, social and cultural content, combined with artistic integrity and excellence.
1) Che (Part I)
5) Chicago 10
6) Battle in Seattle
8) War, Inc.
9) Body of War
10) The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Friday, January 9, 2009
Rise to the challenge
By John Esther
In the spirit of creative community and civil rest, filmmakers and others met today at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel for the AFI Awards 2008 luncheon.
Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), actor Laura Dern (Recount), actor-director Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino), actor Michael Emerson (Lost), director David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), actor Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), actor Emile Hirsch (Milk), Melissa Leo (Frozen River), Donal Logue (Life) director Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), actor Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), actor Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), actor Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler) and others were in attendance for their films, which were among the 10 films and 10 television shows –- of obviously notably meritorious worth -- honored at the ninth year event to record entries into American Film Institute’s almanac of the 21st Century.
Introduced by AFI President Bob Gazzale after the above-par Four Season lunch the ten honorees in television were introduced by Rich Frank chair, AFI Jury for Television. This year’s selected honorees were: Breaking Bad, In Treatment, John Adams, Life, Lost, Mad Men, The Office, Recount, The Shield, and The Wire.
This was followed by film reviewer Leonard Maltin, chair, AFI Jury for Motion Pictures, who announced this year’s film selections: The Curious Case of Benjamin, Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Frozen River, Gran Torino, Iron Man, Milk, Wall-E, Wendy and Lucy, and The Wrestler.
Howard, who has made the best film of his career with Frost/Nixon, concluded the luncheon with a toast to “our good work,” which he was “proud” of being a part. During the benediction Opie/Richie drew comparisons between our difficult economic times and a documentary he made about the Great Depression back in the 11th grade.
“We are not immune to the challenges we face,” said Howard, encouraging his fellowmen and women to rise to the challenge and be at “our absolute best in the upcoming years.”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, AFI President Emerita Jean Firstenberg, and AFI President Bob Gazzale
Other guests present were AFI President Emerita Jean Picker Firstenberg; Marshall Herskovitz; Kathleen Nolan; Frank Pierson; Tony To; Lisa Arpey; Jim Gianopulos; Dan Glickman; Daniel Petrie, Jr., and selected college professors and media.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
By John Esther
The WGA announced their nominations for best screenplays.
In the original screenplay category: Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Burn After Reading; Dustin Lance Black, Milk; Tom McCarthy, The Visitor; and Robert Siegel, The Wrestler. (The pointless, over-narrated VCB beat out Synecdoche, New York; Nothing But the Truth, and Special? I guess films about ideas/ideals are passe with the WGA.)
In the best adapted screenplay category: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, screenplay by Eric Roth, screen story by Roth and Robin Swicord, based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Dark Knight, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer, based on the characters appearing on comic books published by DD Comics; Batman created by Bob Kane; Doubt, screenplay by John Patrick Shanley based on his stage play; Frost/Nixon, screenplay by Peter Morgan based on his stage play; and Slumdog Millionaire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy based on the novel “Q and A” by Vikas Swarup.
In the documentary screenplay categories: Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story, written by Stefan Forbes and Noland Walker; Chicago 10, written by Brett Morgen: Fuel, written by Johnny O’Hara; Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, screenplay by Alex Gibney from the words of Hunter S. Thompson; and Waltz with Bashir, written by Ari Folman.
Last year at this time the WGA was in a strike and thus there were no galas on the east and west coasts. This year the Writers Guild Awards will be held simultaneously Feb. 7 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles and the Hudson Theatre at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in New York.
Monday, January 5, 2009
By John Esther
The Los Angeles Galaxy and German Bundesliga club Bayern Munich reached an agreement allowing Landon Donovan to join the club on loan.
Donovan will join the club immediately and play until the 26-year-old returns to LA a fortnight prior to the Galaxy’s season opener against D.C. United at The Home Depot Center on Sunday, March 22.
The Galaxy’s 2008 MVP, the striker scored a career-best 20 goals last year to lead MLS, while adding nine assists in 25 games. The all-time leading scorer in U.S. National Team history with 37 goals in 106 appearances for the Red, White and Blue, the Redlands, Ca. native has 52 goals and 40 assists in his four years with the Galaxy, making him the club’s second leading scorer all-time (Galaxy assistant coach Cobi Jones retired with 70).
In his eight seasons in MLS, Donovan, who began his professional career with fellow German club Bayer Leverkusen, has 84 goals and 69 assists in 183 games, making him one of four players in league history with 80 goals and 65 assists.
Bayern Munich is currently tied for first place with TSG Hoffenheim at the halfway point of the Bundesliga season.
The club is currently training during their annual winter break before returning to action on Friday, January 30 against Hamburg. That game is the first of six league games the club has scheduled during the duration of Donovan’s loan, which will culminate following Bayern’s home game against Hannover 96 on Saturday, March 7.
By John Esther
The Producers Guild of America announced their nominations today with best picture nods going to such tame choices as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, plus the more adventurous Milk.
Documentary feature picks were a bit more serious with Man on Wire, Standard Operating Procedure and Trouble in the Water getting the nominations.
For producer of the year in the animation motion pictures, Bolt, Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E garnered nominations.
On the smaller screen Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, The Office, 30 Rock and Weeds were nominated for the Danny Thomas Producer of the Year in Episodic Television-Comedy.
Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary in Recount.
Dramatic TV series nominees are Boston Legal, Damages, Dexter, Lost and Mad Men. 24: Redemption, Bernard and Doris, John Adams, A Raisin in the Sun and Recount were nominated for the David L. Wolper Producer of the Year in Long-Form Television award.
The producer of the year award in non-fiction television nominees are Deadliest Catch, Frontline, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, 60 Minutes and This American Life.
Nominations in the live entertainment/competition category are The Amazing Race, The Colbert Report, Project Runway, Top Chef and Real Time with Bill Maher.
The PGA Awards will be presented Jan. 24th at the Hollywood Palladium.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Resistance to reality
By Michael Haas
Knowing that the Nazis are rounding you up because you are Jewish, what would you do? The conventional answer — flight or passive acceptance of fate -- leaves out resistance as an option. In Byelorussia, one form of resistance was to hide in a forest (though filming is in Lithuania).
Defiance brings that true story to the screen from the book, Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec. Directed by Edward Zwick, Defiance provides details of the perils of Nazi pursuit -- bounty-hunting Byelorussian police collaborators, a few battle scenes, nature’s bitter cold, and inadequate foo -- is definitely not for the fainthearted.
The Bielski brothers, leaders of the encampment who were formerly thieves and smugglers, clash as well. Zus Bielski (Live Schreiber) prefers revengefully to shoot as many Nazis as he can, so for a time he joins up with the Soviet resistance led by anti-Semitic Soviet People's Army leader Viktor Panchenko (Ravil Isyanov). Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) provides practical rules by which the community can live together, particularly when the food-hunter men insist on eating larger portions to eat than the food-preparers and food-eaters. Sometimes the brothers are united, sometimes divided. Their younger third brother, Assael (played by Jamie Bell), does not know with whom to take sides, but ultimately acts heroically. Titles at the end inform film-viewers that the community built a school and a hospital. The strength of Jewish culture, which has survived against lesser odds, is the main message of the film.
By John Esther
The James Agee Cinema Circle have announced the nominees for the 2008 “Progie” Awards.
The Progies recognize features, documentaries and filmmakers for their outstanding achievement in promoting human rights and providing a voice for people of color, the working class, women, immigrants, gays, and the environment, and against war, censorship and political repression.
Below is a list of the award accompanied by a brief description and the nominees. Some are also accompanied by personal comments.
The Trumbo -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Picture is named after Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten, who was imprisoned for his beliefs and refusing to inform on others. Trumbo helped break the Blacklist when he received screen credit for Spartacus and Exodus in 1960.
This year’s Trumbo nominees are Battle in Seattle, Che, Milk, The Visitor, Waltz with Bashir, and Wendy and Lucy.
Wendy and Lucy, a story about a woman (Michelle Williams) and the dog she loses while driving to Alaska, as Best Progressive Picture is a joke. For all of its intents and efforts Che does not really belong here either. Better choices than these two would have been Chicago 10 or Hunger or Nothing But the Truth. Even the politically safe Doubt and Frost/Nixon are superior films.
A scene from Battle in Seattle.
The Garfield -- Progie Award for Best Actor is named after John Garfield, who rose from the proletarian theater to star in progressive pictures such as Gentleman's Agreement and Force of Evil, only to run afoul of the Hollywood Blacklist.
This year’s Garfield nominees are Josh Brolin (W), Benicio Del Toro (Che), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), and Sean Penn (Milk).
Karen Morley Award -- Progie Award for Best Actress is named for Karen Morley, who was driven out of Hollywood in the 1930s for her leftist views, but who maintained her militant political activism for the rest of her life. This year’s Morley nominees are Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River), Michelle Williams (Wendy and Lucy), and Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road; The Reader).
If progressive politics and fine acting are the basis for the Morley Award then this is a sad indictment on contemporary cinema. Leo, who plays a working-class women caught up in an illegal immigrant smuggling ring in Frozen River, is the only one here who meets both qualifications. Jolie’s melodramatic middle-class performance is the worse thing about Changeling. I expect the studio whores to be impressed, not people authentically for progress. Hawkin’s character does not have a political bone to pick in her quick-witted head. I have not seen Revolutionary Road as of this writing, but picking Winslet for her performance in the reactionary film, The Reader, is bewildering. Williams, why? Notably absent is Kate Beckinsale for Nothing But the Truth, which I suspect many of my fellow JACC members have not seen.
A scene from Frozen River.
The Renoir -- Progie Award for Best Anti-War Film is named after the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, who directed the 1937 anti-militarism masterpiece The Grand Illusion.
This year’s Renoir nominees are Body of War, The Lucky One’s, Stop-Loss, Waltz with Bashir, and War, Inc.
In this category, non-fiction films Body of War and Waltz with Bashir compete with fiction films The Lucky Ones, Stop-Loss, and War, Inc.
The Gillo -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Foreign Film is named after the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, who shot the 1960s classics The Battle of Algiers and Burn!
This year’s Gillo nominees are Che, The Edge of Heaven, Take Out, and Waltz with Bashir.
The Dziga -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Documentary is named after Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov, who directed 1920s nonfiction films such as the Kino Pravda series and The Man With the Movie Camera.
This year’s Dziga nominees are Body of War, Religulous, Standard Operating Procedure, Trouble the Water, and Trumbo.
Adrienne Shelly Award -- Named after the actor and director, Adrienne Shelly, who was brutally murdered in 2006, the Progie Award is dedicated to a movie opposing violence against women.
This year’s Adrienne Shelly nominees are Before the Rain, Changeling, Gran Torino, and Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
These are very weak choices. Where is A Walk to Beautiful, Funny Games, Brick Lane, Battle in Seattle, etc?
A scene from Funny Games.
La Passionara Award -- Progie Award for positive female images in a movie, and in light of the historically demeaning portrayal of women in movies.
This year’s Passionara nominees are Changeling, Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, Nothing But the Truth, and Trouble the Water.
Our Daily Bread Award -- Progie Award for the film with the most positive and inspiring working-class images in a movie this year.
This year’s Daily Bread nominees are Battle in Seattle, The Garden, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, Profit and the Whispering Wind, Take Out, and The Wrestler.
The Robeson award –- Progie Award named after courageous performing legend, Paul Robeson. The award is for the movie that best expresses the people-of-color experience in America, in light of the historical distortions and caricatures in films.
This year’s Robeson nominees are Ballast, Cadillac Records, Exiles, Miracle at St. Anna and Trouble the Water.
A scene from Miracle at St. Anna.
Tomas Gutierrez Alea Award -- Progie Award named after the late legendary Cuban filmmaker for the film best depicting mass popular uprising or revolutionary transformation in a movie.
This year’s nominees are Battle in Seattle, Che, Chicago 10, Defiance, and Hunger.
The Lawson -- Progie Award for Best Anti-Fascist Film is named after screenwriter John Howard Lawson, one of the Hollywood Ten, who wrote Hollywood's first feature about the Spanish Civil War, Blockade, with Henry Fonda, and anti-Nazi movies such as Sahara, starring Humphrey Bogart.
This year’s Lawson nominees are The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Defiance, Good, The Reader, and Valkyrie.
What do we have here? A bunch of bourgeois films set in Germany in mid-20th century, made by, mostly, non-Germans and told in English. A small exception is Defiance, which is set in Byelorussia during WWII, but it is still in English. How Hollywood of the JACC. Good and The Reader are really not anti-fascist. Good is about the plight of one man (Viggo Mortensen) who does nothing to resist the fascist tide, and The Reader makes a concentration camp guard (Kate Winslet) look sympathetic during her “retirement” years. On another hand, The Boy with the Striped Pajamas packs a wallop with its conclusion.
The Modern Times -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Film Satire is named after Charlie Chaplin, who made Modern Times and The Great Dictator.
This year’s Modern nominees are Frost/Nixon, Religulous, W, Wall-E, and War, Inc.
Okay, what is satirical about Frost/Nixon?
The Orson -- Progie Award for Best Overlooked Progressive Film (with restrictions) is named after actor-director Orson Welles. After he directed the masterpiece Citizen Kane Welles had difficulty getting most of his other movies made.
This year’s Orson nominees are Fields of Fuel, The Real Great Debaters, A Time to Stir, 24 City, and Wings of Defeat.
The Lorentz -- Progie Award for Best Environmentalist Film is named after Pare Lorentz, who directed Depression era classic documentaries The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River.
This year’s Lorentz nominees are The Day the Earth Stood Still, Flow: For the Love of Water, The Garden, The Happening, Wall-E.
The Pasolini -- Progie Award for Best Pro-Gay Rights Film is named after Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Decameron: The Canterbury Tales) a gay man who was murdered by fascists.
This year’s Pasolini’s nominees are Chris & Don, Milk, No Regret, Save Me and The Secrets.
The Lennon -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Musical or Film About Music is named after slain peace activist and musician John Lennon, who co-starred in the 1967 satire How I Won the War and the 2006 doc The U.S. vs. John Lennon.
This year’s Lennon nominees are Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, Cadillac Records, The Gits, Patti Smith: The Dream of Life, and War Dance.
The Brando -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Film Activist is named after Marlon Brando, who starred in movies such as the Black power-themed Burn! and the anti-apartheid A Dry White Season, while championing underdogs like the American Indian Movement off the screen.
The Brando nominees this year are John Cusack, Danny Glover, Robert Greenwald, Spike Lee, and Sean Penn.
Danny Glover and the activism of art.
The Sergei -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Lifetime Achievement is named after the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, who created Russian revolutionary classics such as Potemkin and 10 Days That Shook the World. This year’s Segei nominees are Harry Belafonte, Jean-Luc Godard, Danny Glover, Ken Loach, and the late Paul Newman.
The Progie Awards will be announced in February as an oppositional principled cultural force running counter to the Oscars.
The James Agee Cinema Circle is named for the late esteemed film critic for The Nation. JACC participants include myself; Ed Rampell; Dan Bessie, culture critic and son of one of the Hollywood Ten; Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, co-authors of Radical Hollywood; Gerald Horne, author of The Final Victim of the Blacklist and Class Struggle in Hollywood; Luis Reyes, co-author of Hispanics in Hollywood; Jack Shaheen, author of Reel Bad Arabs and Guilty, and others.