TIFF Video Recap

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 2:36 pm
About halfway through the marathon of the Toronto Film Festival, I participated in a roundtable chat about TIFF with a number of esteemed critics--Robert Koehler of Variety, Jason Anderson and Adam Nayman of Toronto's Eye Weekly, Danny Kasman of MUBI.com, Andrew Tracy of Cinema Scope and Fernando F. Croce of Slant magazine. While I work on my written wrap of the festival for next week's paper, watch for thoughts and debate on, amongst other things, festival Tweeting, Godard, Vincent Gallo, the "next Slumdog Millionaire" and the worst of the fest (note that those last two are definitely not mutually exclusive). I've embedded the first part of the conversation above; find the rest at Eye Weekly.

Sonic Youth Spawn Kidnapped at Sundance

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 9:18 am

In today's print edition of the Village Voice (and tomorrow's edition of the LA Weekly), you'll find a story I wrote on Daddy Long Legs, the second feature by filmmaking brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, which premieres at Sundance this week and is now available for rental on cable VOD. The film, starring Ronald Bronstein (the director of Frownland) and Frey and Sage Ranaldo (sons of Sonic Youth guitarist Lee), is based on the Safdie brothers' own childhood memories of their father, who at one point kidnapped the boys and moved them from Manhattan to Queens. In a crazy alternative marketing move for the indie film, a Daddy producer landed the brothers a spot on CNN's Campbell Brown show talking about familial kidnapping. Watch that above, and find out how you can watch the film on your cable system here.

YouTubing Sundance

Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm


As you may have heard, Sundance and YouTube have established a unique collaboration during the 2010 fest, through which three films world premiering here (Bass Ackwards, Homewrecker and One Too Many Mornings--all entries in the NEXT section), as well as two films that debuted in Park City last year (Children of Invention and The Cove), have been made available for rental on YouTube during the duration of the festival. Each film costs $3.99 per viewing, and the filmmakers will, according to a press release, "receive the majority of the revenue share."

The press release also promises that the films will be "spotlighted on the YouTube homepage," but when I went to YouTube I could find no sign of such promotion on the homepage. My "Featured Videos" included Streets Full of Bodies in Haiti and Man Makes Chocolate Records; the clip promoted as Most Popular under the Film & Animation category, The Perfect Body? is a video diary in which two teens interview other teens about style and body image.

At a press conference yesterday announcing the venture, a YouTube rep said the company wants to "give a sense of independent choice for our users," but the fact is, YouTube users seem to mostly choose the homegrown, the incidental and accidental. If the comment thread on Children of Invention (which I only found by searching the title) is any indication, some of those users are hostile towards the very idea that the video sharing site could be used to facilitate for-profit distribution of films. To quote sonicballer8888: "this is bad. soon, youtube will start charging for all videos. keep on rating these low guys."

Sundance Docs: The Red Chapel

Friday, January 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm

For all the documented problems Sundance has had in maintaining its rep as a showcase of high-quality American independent narrative cinema, the festival has remained the premiere US platform for American nonfiction film. 24 hours into 2010 festival, the most talked about title on the ground (not to mention on Twitter) seems to be Restrepo, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's record of their year embedded with an American platoon in Afghanistan, which is becoming known colloquially as "the real life Hurt Locker." Later in the week I'll be able to verify whether or not that buzz is on the mark, but on a tip from a friend, I skipped this morning's press screening of Restrepo to catch World Documentary competition title The Red Chapel, and man, I'm glad I did.
Like Restrepo, Chapel documents the infiltration of a previously off-limits battlefield - of sorts. Through means we are not made privy to, Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger sets up a cultural exchange through which he and two young Danish-Korean comedians, Simon and Jacob, are allowed to visit North Korea to spend two weeks planning a performance in collaboration with the state (represented by their English-speaking handler, Mrs. Pak) and a group of Pyonyang school kids. Brügger has convinced the North Koreans that the trio are a Kim Jong Il-sympathetic theater troop called The Red Chapel; in actuality, Simon and Jacob (who is developmentally disabled and refers to himself as "spastic") have no real act -- just some wigs, a whoopie cousin, and a suspiciously sincere acoustic cover of "Wonderwall" by Oasis. And Brügger is no theater producer, but a journalist determined to prove that "comedy is the soft spot of all dictatorships."

Mo'Nique: Is Not Having an Act Her Act?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 11:56 am

Is Precious star Mo'Nique the "least superficial actress ever?" Such is the query posed by this NY Daily News item, which commends the Soul Plane actress for having "more important things on her mind than personal grooming," such as "dedicat[ing] her win to abuse victims everywhere."

This newsflash, complete with extreme close-up on the actresses' unshaven legs on the Golden Globes red carpet, plays into the "Mo'Nique refuses to play by Hollywood's rules," meme that's been going around ever since Precious (then called Push) debuted a year ago at Sundance. But isn't not playing the game its own kind of game playing? Aren't Mo'Nique's unshaven legs (or her namedropping of "real person" brands such as El Pollo Loco, as in the video above) just a version of former Best Supporting Actress winner Angelina Jolie's tattoos, so "shocking" for a starlet back in the late 90s and now shorthand for an "Angelina Jolie type"? Or is this sort of thing just a way to talk up Mo'Nique's general "outsider" cred (as a black woman with a predominantly non-white fanbase, as a comedienne playing it straight), without actually talking about it?

Regardless of Mo'Nique's strategy or lack thereof, it seems unfathomable at this point that anything could get in the way of her and Oscar. That said, the people seem less impressed than the press. The Daily News ultimately turns the issue over to their readers via a poll, which right now is trending overwhelmingly towards the negative verdict, "It's gross, period."